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Suing Yourself on Behalf of an Estate

Confusion

If a deceased person or the estate of that person has reasonable legal recourse against some other person or entity, then it is ordinarily the duty of the estate's representative to pursue that action in court. However, a recent case in Utah shows how that can lead to interesting results.

A man died in a one-vehicle accident when his common law wife was driving. The wife was the man's sole heir and was named the personal representative of his estate. In that capacity, on behalf of the estate, she filed a lawsuit against herself for wrongful death. Then, in her capacity as an individual and the defendant in the wrongful death case, she moved to dismiss the case on the grounds she could not sue herself.

The trial court dismissed the lawsuit.

The grounds?

Public policy prevents someone from suing themselves.

However, the Utah Supreme Court reversed that and allowed the wrongful death lawsuit to continue.

The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed this case in "Case Summary on Suing Yourself as Personal Representative for Wrongful Death."

At first glance, this might seem ridiculous and pointless, since the woman is the sole heir. Even if the estate collects money from the lawsuit, it would just go to her. However, there are a couple of things that could be going on here.

Before any heirs receive their inheritances from the estate, any debts of the deceased have to be paid. It could be that the estate cannot cover the man's debts, unless judgment is obtained against the woman.

Another possibility is that the woman had insurance at the time of the accident. In that case, the insurance company might be required to indemnify her if she is held liable for wrongful death.

Thus, the estate would not really be collecting from her. It would be collecting from the insurance company.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Dec. 22, 2016) "Case Summary on Suing Yourself as Personal Representative for Wrongful Death"

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