Years ago, because of thinking that the family unit will be destroyed, courts were not letting the family members sue each other for torts. Nowadays, most courts do not follow this lead anymore. The reasoning for the change is that when families have tort claims they want to fight against each other, family units already did suffer some sort of significant breakdown. At the bare minimum, the injured family members have to be able to ask for financial compensation.
So, can I sue family members? Yes, you can.
It is a great thing that this stigma associated with suing family members changed when it comes to personal injuries. Intra-family immunities coming from lawsuits because of the fact that there are actions that led to inappropriate things over years are quite common these days. Most of the US states were originally observing spousal and parental immunity. Right now, many created some exceptions or simply completely abandoned the doctrines.
The Spousal Immunity Dilemma
In the legal industry, there is such a thing as common law. This actually covers several different legal principles coming from lawsuits or laws coming from English traditions and legal history. Spousal immunity is exactly that as it is a doctrine that evolved from practice in most US states. The doctrine practically stopped a spouse from launching a lawsuit for personal injury against another spouse. Basically, the only thing in the past was to preserve family units, together with integrity and assets.
In the past, this particular doctrine was simply the law but now it is close to being completely eradicated. This is correct for most US states. We can even say that even in states with the doctrine being respected we are looking at specific exceptions that do apply when the tort was actually intentional. This includes states like Iowa, Texas, Ohio, and Louisiana. The two very big exceptions that allow the spouse to sue and obtain damages are:
- Negligence that appears after car accidents.
- Sexual or physical abuse.
Parental immunity appeared after a Supreme Court case in Mississippi in 2891. This led to not letting children sue parents for all parental actions performed against them when they were minors. By the time the twentieth century came in, the doctrine was re-examined. Parental immunity was practically completely abolished in so many jurisdictions. Even where this did not happen, exceptions appeared. One of the exceptions was allowing children injured in car accidents caused by parent negligence to sue family members who were the reason for the accident. This is true even if injuries appeared after the actions, you would normally consider being parenting.
The goal of creating family immunity laws was to stop the families from having to go through extra turmoil after accidents, together with preventing the families from doing any insurance fraud. In order to protect themselves, even more, the insurance companies started to add some “household exclusions” inside automobile policies.
Basically, the most important thing to remember is that you could sue a family member if their negligence led to you being injured. However, you will need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney because legal debates can be very complicated.