Can you sue a family member who caused you an injury?
Some states prohibit lawsuits between family members. Here’s why, and what you can do for compensation if you’ve been injured.
No one wants to imagine the possibility of a child or family member being hurt by another family member’s actions. But it happens. It could be a car accident with a sibling driving, an unintentional injury at home caused by a parent, or something else… but whatever it is, there’s sure to be some hurt and difficulty within the family. What people don’t always know is that there’s a legal concept of family and parental immunity.
What is family and parental immunity?
At its core, family and parental immunity is a doctrine in personal injury law that historically prevented family members from suing each other. Originally, the idea behind this immunity was to preserve family harmony and prevent fraud. There had been instances or suggestions of fraud by family members collaborating to extract money from insurance companies.
Each state has limited the doctrine of parental immunity, though the law varies by state. Generally, a minor, unemancipated child, cannot sue a parent for personal injuries if the parent's negligence caused the child's injury and the negligence occurred in the context of the parent-child relationship.
The doctrine is based upon the public policy of maintaining family tranquility and avoiding the fear of undermining a parent’s control and authority over his or her children. When the child’s injuries are due to a parent’s negligent driving, a child can pursue a legal claim against his parent.
History of family immunity
The concept dates back many years and is deeply rooted in English common law. It was believed that allowing such lawsuits would lead to family discord and undermine the family unit's sanctity. Additionally, there were concerns about potential collusion between family members to commit insurance fraud.
But… can you sue a family member?
Just because you’re family, it doesn’t mean that someone can’t be negligent in a way that causes you injury. You should be able to be compensated for that, right?
While the principle of family and parental immunity might sound straightforward, its application varies significantly across jurisdictions. Some states in the U.S. have abolished this doctrine entirely, while others have modified or limited its reach.
For example, a child is injured in a car accident when their parent was driving because the parent was negligent. In some states, the child would be completely barred from suing the parent based on strict parental immunity. In others, a lawsuit could be permitted if the parent was egregiously negligent or acted with intentional malice.
In another instance, a child could be injured by a property hazard at home that the parent was aware of but didn’t fix. Similar to a car accident, some states would bar a child from suing the parent because of parental immunity. In a state that has a modified immunity rule, the child might be able to file a lawsuit based on the parent’s negligent maintenance of the property.
Insurance and family immunity
The primary objective of a personal injury lawsuit is to cover the cost of medical expenses or property damage. In many cases, insurance policies will provide compensation without the need to litigate against a family member. For example, a child injured in a car accident might claim against their parent's car insurance policy directly.
Mediation or arbitration
These alternative dispute resolution methods can be less confrontational than a full-blown lawsuit. They allow families to resolve their differences in a neutral setting, often with the help of a mediator or arbitrator.
Always consult with a personal injury attorney to understand the nuances of your state's laws and to get guidance tailored to your specific situation.
If you're considering legal action against a family member, or if you're being sued, it's vital to consider the emotional and relational implications. Litigation can be stressful and might strain familial bonds. Weigh the severity of the injury and potential compensation against the potential emotional cost.
Additional notes about legal claims that involve family members
- Each case is unique, and outcomes can vary based on individual circumstances and the specific jurisdiction.
- Legal doctrines evolve. What's true today regarding immunity might change in the future based on court decisions or legislative actions.
- Consulting an experienced personal injury lawyer is crucial. They can guide you through the complexities of your case and provide the best advice tailored to your situation.
Family and parental immunity in personal injury law is a complex and evolving topic. While the idea of preserving family harmony is commendable, it's also essential to ensure justice for those who've been harmed, even if the harm comes from within the family. Always seek legal guidance when navigating these murky waters, and prioritize the well-being and relationships of your family throughout the process.