It’s natural to think about occasions when you may need insurance: Rear ended
at a red light, sideswiped at an intersection, or backed into in a parking
lot. In each of these scenarios, it is also natural to think of the other drivers as
responsible for the accidents. But what happens if the responsible driver is your
spouse? Insurance coverage just became a little more complicated.
The reason goes back to a common law doctrine called interspousal
immunity—which found its way into American jurisprudence over 150 years
ago. It prohibits people from suing and recovering from their spouse for the
spouse’s negligence. The doctrine is based on the legal decision that a married couple
share the same identity in law. Under the doctrine, a married couple is one person
under the law, so that person can’t sue himself or herself. Interspousal immunity
as a legitimate legal doctrine has been on the decline since the 1920s—not
coincidentally coinciding with the passage of the 19th Amendment—but there are
some stubborn holdovers in the law and in public life, insurance included.
In the past, many insurance contracts excluded bodily injury coverage related
to the negligence of one spouse toward another—due in part to interspousal
immunity. However, Connecticut has been on the forefront of turning the
legal tide against interspousal immunity.
The Connecticut Supreme Court held in the 1914 case of Brown v. Brown that
a person could bring a cause of action against his or her spouse. That was
strengthened by further court decisions, as well as statute. In fact, the Connecticut
Legislature went so far as to protect Connecticut residents traveling in other
states. In 1969, a law went into effect to ensure that Connecticut residents injured
in a motor vehicle accident in a state that still recognizes interspousal immunity,
would have Connecticut law applied to the cause of action; in effect, this nullifies
the interspousal immunity doctrine of another state. This law provides
important protections for Connecticut residents traveling throughout the U.S.
Have questions about spousal liability? Reach out to our agency.