Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law

Can I Collect Insurance if My Spouse Injures Me in a Car Accident?

Tennessee law requires all drivers to carry a certain level of insurance coverage. Among other things, such insurance must cover at least $25,000 for “bodily injury” to one person in a car accident, or $50,000 if two are more people suffer such injuries. This only covers injuries sustained by other people, not the insured driver.

Wife Cannot Seek Damages from Late Husband’s Insurance Company

Many auto insurance policies also exclude from bodily injury coverage any claims made by the spouse or immediate family member of an insured person. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed the application of Tennessee law in this area. The case arose from a tragic 2009 car accident where a man died and his wife and grandchildren were seriously injured. The decedent’s insurance company later informed the grandchildren, but not the wife, there was available bodily injury coverage under his policy.

The wife and her son—the grandchildren’s father—later sued the estate of the driver in Tennessee state court for damages. The insurance company defended the estate but simultaneously filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking a declaration it was not liable for coverage to any injuries sustained by the wife. On this point, the insurer pointed to an “exclusion endorsement” attached to the policy which states, “We do not provide Liability Coverage for any person for ‘bodily injury’ to you or any ‘family member.’” In this context, a “family member” included a “person related to you by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of your household.”

The federal court agreed this language clearly barred the wife from enforcing any judgment obtained against her husband’s estate from the insurance company. The wife appealed but the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal trial courts in Tennessee, agreed with the lower court’s decision. The appeals court noted, “Tennessee courts have repeatedly held that family member exclusions, such as the Exclusion here, are enforceable.” Indeed, the Tennessee Supreme Court considered this issue in a 2005 decision, when it rejected a challenge to a family member exclusion on legal and public policy grounds. In that case, the Supreme Court noted that while courts in many other states do not permit such exclusions, Tennessee law still does, and ultimately it is a “policy choice for the Legislature” to make.

Get Help from a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer

It should be noted that the decision to uphold family member exclusions in insurance policies does not apply to tort liability generally. The Tennessee Supreme Court has long held that there is no immunity for a spouse accused of injuring another in an accident. Insurance companies are simply not required to insure against such injuries.

If you have been injured in a car accident due to the negligent actions of another driver—hopefully not a family member—it is important you receive prompt, professional legal advice in dealing with insurance companies and any potential litigation. A qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer can appraise your case and help determine the best course of action for your situation. Contact the offices of Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville today if you would like to speak with someone about your case as soon as possible.

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