If you lost control of your car and caused your spouse’s death, suing the insurance company probably wouldn’t be your top priority. But what about suing the at-fault driver – yourself?
A Utah judge has just given the go-ahead to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a surviving spouse and personal representative against herself as the at-fault driver in a fatal accident. In December 2011, Mrs. Bagley lost control of her Range Rover and rolled the SUV. Her husband was thrown from the vehicle and died.
As with most married couples, Mrs. Bagley was named the personal representative for her husband’s estate – the person responsible for dealing with her husband’s affairs and settling his debts after his death. As personal representative, Mrs. Bagley had the authority, and arguably the duty, to seek compensation for her husband’s loss from the person responsible for the accident. The proceeds of any lawsuit would go to all of her husband’s beneficiaries, including his creditors.
While many states’ laws exclude the legally eye-crossing possibility of a woman suing herself, Utah’s law did not directly do so. Instead any challenge would have to have been to Mrs. Bagley’s ability to serve as personal representative of the estate, since she “contributed to the death of the decedent.”
Michigan’s wrongful death statute is similar to Utah’s. It allows the personal representative of a person’s estate to sue if the person’s death was caused by the wrongful act of another. However, if a would-be beneficiary commits a felony resulting in the person’s death, that person cannot receive any assets from the estate and can no longer serve as a personal representative to that estate.
In Michigan, reckless driving resulting in death is a felony. That means if Mrs. Bagley had been in Michigan her role as personal representative could be challenged by other beneficiaries or creditors, just like in Utah. But under Michigan law, a court could also determine that Mrs. Bagley did not have authority to file the wrongful death lawsuit in the first place because her nomination as personal representative had been revoked when she committed the felony. An alternate personal representative would have to step in and file the lawsuit for the family.
The laws around wrongful death lawsuits can be very complicated and confusing. That’s why it is important to have an experienced auto accident attorney who can help walk you through the process and help the family get the recovery they need to pay for hospital and funeral expenses and compensate them for their loss. David Christensen at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan has been representing auto accident victims and their families for over 20 years. If you have lost a loved one to a car accident, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.