You might not consider Utah the most progressive state, but it has become the first to grant its citizens a controversial right that many have long been denied, proving that the law does evolve. Utah has now become the first state to officially allow its citizens to sue themselves.
As the Salt Lake Tribune reports (thanks, Mark), a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals ruled on February 15 that Utah law allows a decedent's heir and the personal representative of his estate to sue the driver who allegedly caused the accident that killed him. That wouldn't be unusual except that in Bagley v. Bagley, those are all the same people.
The two plaintiffs in this case—the decedent's heir and the personal representative of his estate—brought a wrongful-death claim and a survival action against the driver alleged to have caused the accident. Bagley finds herself on both sides of this dispute because not only is she her husband's heir and the personal representative of his estate, she is also the defendant driver whose negligence allegedly caused the accident.
That's right. She's all three parties on both sides of the case.
The court's opinion is pretty mindbending, as you might expect. I mean, how do you even discuss a case in which there's only one party who is two plaintiffs suing herself as a defendant? Well, the court sets it all up this way:
Barbara Bagley, acting in different capacities, appears as both the appellants and the appellee in this case.
Okay, hold up. Just to be clear, Bagley is the two plaintiffs and Bagley is the defendant that she (the two plaintiffs) is suing. The trial court ruled against Bagley the two plaintiffs and in favor of Bagley the defendant. So on appeal, Bagley the two plaintiffs is also Bagley the two appellants, and Bagley the defendant is also Bagley the appellee. Bagley is all the parties. So you could just as well say that Bagley is actually six people in this case (two plaintiffs, two appellants, one defendant, and an appellee), or that she is four people on one side and two on the other, and how many people she is depends on which court the case is in. Got it? Back to the court:
Barbara Bagley, acting in different capacities, appears as both the appellants and the appellee in this case. Bagley represents the estate of Bradley M. Vom Baur [who, confusingly, was not named "Bagley."] She also appears on her own behalf as Vom Baur's heir. We refer to these two roles collectively as Plaintiffs. Bagley is also the defendant and alleged tortfeasor ([and we will refer to that role as] Defendant). Defendant's interests in this case are represented by her insurance carrier.
Aha, insurance carrier. So here's what's going on: Bagley the personal representative of her husband's estate is suing Bagley the defendant who allegedly caused the accident. Bagley the heir of her husband has also joined as a plaintiff because she has an interest in the proceeds if Bagley the estate representative collects. Because Bagley the defendant has insurance, Bagley's insurer is representing her because it would have to pay the judgment to the husband's estate if Bagley (again the defendant) is found liable.
For killing the husband.
The legal issue is this: Utah's wrongful-death statute says a person's heir or personal representative can sue whoever caused the person's death when the death "is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another." The defendant(s) argued, and the trial court agreed, that this means "of someone other than the heir or personal representative." That is, the heir or representative can sue as long as they didn't cause the death. But the plaintiff(s) argued that it means "of someone other than the decedent." That is, the heirs can sue as long as the decedent didn't kill himself. The Court of Appeals has now agreed with that.
After wrestling with this for a while (too long, really), I think the Court of Appeals is right. Seems like the statute can be read either way, but this way is closer to the plain language. The real problem, I think, is not the statute but the procedure.
There are two separate actions here, or should be. The first one is a contract action, because Bagley had an insurance policy that pays off if she accidentally kills someone while driving. (Intentional killings are an entirely different situation, as you would expect.) She did that. Pay up. The second one is an action by the husband's estate against the person who caused his death. Also not controversial. But here the two separate actions have been unnaturally joined in carnival-freak-show fashion by somebody's decision to make Bagley herself the estate representative. And that is where all the brain-hurtingness comes from. Appoint somebody else and I think most of the problems disappear, one way or another.
I notice that in footnote 4 of the opinion, the court states tersely that "The decision to appoint Bagley as personal representative of [the] estate is not before us on appeal." I have a feeling the judges wish it had been, or that they could get hold of whoever made that decision, at least.
Note: some of you may not know that "Autolitigation" in the category tags below refers to this sort of case—that is, not "auto[mobile] litigation" but a case where somebody sued or tried to sue himself or herself, intentionally or not. If you thought this was the first time somebody had tried it, (1) you misunderestimate the human race and (2) you might want to take a look at that section.
The claim isn't that her attraction to him is only physical—he doesn't get conjugal visits anyway. It's that she only wants to marry him because she literally wants his body, so she can charge people to look at it after he dies.
Would people pay to see it? I have no doubt they would. See, e.g., "Battle Over Custody of Leg Escalates," Lowering the Bar (Oct. 1, 2007) (noting that guy who found a leg in a barbecue smoker he bought at an auction was making "good money" charging $3 a look before leg's owner objected).
Anyway, this claim is being made by author Daniel Simone, who has written a book called The Retrial of Charles Manson that may or may not be published in the near future. The claim does not appear in that book, apparently, but Simone told the Huffington Post that he got the info from his co-author.
In fact, as my source for this pointed out (thanks, James), the evidence supporting this claim does not seem especially reliable (and would certainly not be admissible) because it is not just hearsay, it is multiple hearsay:
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Simone said the information originated with Frank Reichard, an inmate who "has a cell" near Manson's at California's Corcoran State Prison.
Simone collaborated on his book with writer Heidi Jordan Ley, who Simone says communicated with Reichard via letter. In a letter that Reichard sent to Ley, which Simone provided to HuffPost, the inmate said he overheard a conversation in the prison's visiting area between Manson's fiancee, 27-year-old Afton Elaine Burton, and her alleged co-conspirator, Craig Hammond [in which they discussed the plot].
So let's say Manson could sue his quasi-fiancee for something to which this would be relevant. Conspiracy to commit marital fraud in order to obtain a corpse for display purposes, how about that? If Manson called Simone to testify, Simone would be offering triple hearsay: he heard it from Ley, who heard it from Reichard, who heard the defendants say it. Multiple hearsay is not necessarily inadmissible, but it usually is because the party offering it has to have some exception for every link in the chain. As many of you know, there are many exceptions for statements that the Rulemakers consider more likely to be reliable. "Party heard it from an inmate" isn't one of those, unfortunately, but maybe each person was making an "excited utterance" (Fed. R. Evid. 803(2)). Not sure that applies to letters at all, though, except maybe very short ones. Nothing else seems to apply.
I keep hoping for an opportunity to apply Rule 803(13), but you just don't come across "statements about personal or family history contained in a family record such as an ... engraving on an urn or burial marker" all that often. At least not in my line of work.
Simone claims that, hearsay or not, this evidence was enough to get Charlie to cancel the wedding. Burton denies that and attributes the non-marriage to "an unexpected interruption in logistics," which is a pretty impressive excuse for someone who, to my knowledge, has no legal training whatsoever.
Just a quick update on the continuing controversy in India over the status of His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj Ji, the Hindu holy man who since January 2014 has been—well, let's do a quiz (choose one):
At the moment nobody knows, but the New York Times reports that a judge in Fort Worth is stuck deciding this question.
Oswald was exhumed in 1981 to make sure it was really him in there, and after tests confirmed his identity (or did they?) he was reburied in a new coffin. That's because the original pine coffin was not doing too well after almost 20 years in the ground, as you might have expected. So what does one do with a used coffin? Well, if it's Lee Harvey Oswald's coffin and you're the Baumgardner Funeral Home, you apparently stick it in a closet for another 30 years and then put it up for auction. (The Times has a picture of it sitting in an office near two workers' desks, and that must have been a very pleasant day for them.)
This super-neat collectible sold in 2010 for $87,468, but Oswald's brother Robert sued to block the sale. This week a Texas judge heard arguments in the case and is expected to rule later this month.
There is no question that Robert Oswald owned the coffin for some period of time after he bought it in 1963. According to the Times, the funeral home's argument is that he then effectively donated it to Lee Harvey's estate, and that the heirs to said estate, Oswald's widow (who is still alive) and his two daughters, have never claimed it. I have not yet seen the trial briefs—which I am currently trying to get—but presumably the argument is that after 20 or 25 or 30 years or whatever, the heirs should be considered to have abandoned their claim. Why the funeral home would then be entitled to it, unless it's just by virtue of possession, is not yet clear to me.
Why anyone would want it is also not yet clear to me. I suppose it would make quite a conversation piece if you turned it into a coffee table or something like that. The conversation would probably involve the phrase "what is wrong with you?" but still.