What I do ain't make-believe . . .
It's just me, myself, and I
When you attend law school, you learn a lot about specific legal subject-matter areas – criminal law, contracts, evidence, constitutional law, corporations, taxation, and so on.
But the most important thing you learn in law school is how to think like a lawyer.
Today I'm going to illustrate what it means to think like a lawyer by telling you about a case I read about in the online edition of the American Bar Association's ABA Journal. (Warning: once you start thinking like a lawyer, you might not be able to go back to thinking like a normal person.)
In 2011, Barbara Bagley of Salt Lake City was driving her Range Rover in the Nevada desert when she hit a big sagebrush, which caused her vehicle to flip. Her husband, who was a passenger in the SUV, was severely injured in the accident and died ten days later.
|Barbara Bagley's wrecked Land Rover|
Subsequently, Barbara Bagley and Barbara Bagley sued Barbara Bagley, alleging that Barbara Bagley negligently caused the crash that killed her husband and demanding that Barbara Bagley pay damages to Barbara Bagley.
How can someone sue herself? That's where thinking like a lawyer comes in. You see, Barbara Bagley may be just one person, but she plays a number of legal roles.
First, Barbara Bagley was her husband's sole heir under the terms of his will.
Let's call that Barbara Bagley "Me."
Second, Barbara Bagley was also the personal representative of her husband's estate, and so responsible for administering that estate – collecting monies owed to the estate, paying bills owed by that estate, and so on. (Other states use the term "executor.")
We'll call that Barbara Bagley "Myself."
And third, Barbara Bagley was the defendant as a result of her allegedly negligent driving, which resulted in her husband's death.
We'll call that Barbara Bagley "I."
The trial court ruled that the relevant Utah statutes did not allow a "tortfeasor" (a person who commits a tort – here, negligent driving) to sue herself.
But an appeals court ruled that the trial judge wasn't thinking like a lawyer. Barbara Bagley and Barbara Bagley weren't really suing the same Barbara Bagley – that's as plain as the nose on your face. Instead, Me and Myself were suing I.
In reality, of course, Me and Myself weren't really suing I -- they were suing I's insurance company, which would have to foot the bill for any judgment entered against her (up to the amount of the coverage amount of I's policy).
But the way it works in our legal system is that you don't sue a negligent driver's insurance company directly. You sue the negligent driver, whose insurance company defends the lawsuit and pays the judgment if there is one.
The appeals court's opinion is based upon the plain meaning of the language of the relevant Utah statutes, and it's hard to argue with their logic. Click here if you'd like to read that opinion.
|The court's opinion|
But Utah law provides that the plain meaning of a statute should be ignored if it leads to an absurd result.
You may think that allowing someone to sue herself and recover damages for her own negligence is an absurd result. Or, to put it another way, you may think that allowing a wife to kill her husband and not only inherit his estate but also get a nice fat check from her insurance company is an absurd result.
But that's because you are not thinking like a lawyer! OR A WIFE!
Bagley and Bagley v. Bagley isn't the only example of what you might call "autolitigation." From a 2014 story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
St. Paul Parks and Recreation employee Megan Campbell was driving a supply van back from a city storage building . . . when she turned a corner, causing serious front-bumper damage to a parked car.
The damaged 2001 Nissan Pathfinder in question wasn't just anybody's vehicle. It was her own.
Now, Campbell has filed a claim against the city . . . for damage caused to her personal vehicle by a city worker – herself.
"Because I was working for the city and driving the city vehicle, I feel they are responsible for paying for the damage done to my car," Campbell wrote in a "notice of claim" form received this week by the city clerk's office.Megan Campbell is thinking like a lawyer!
"Me Myself and I" was released in 1989 on De La Soul's debut album, which was titled 3 Feet High and Rising.
Here's De La Soul's "Me Myself, and I":
Click below to buy the song from Amazon: