Short answer: it depends.
Imagine these two scenarios:
Scenario #1 — Your wife leaves the vacuum cleaner out and plugged in after using it, right at the top of the stairs. You turn the corner to go down the stairs, trip over the vacuum and fall head first down your uncarpeted steps, sustaining a head injury and a broken arm in the process.
Scenario #2 — Your husband is driving with you in the passenger seat. He misjudges a left turn and the speed of the oncoming traffic, resulting in a serious motor vehicle accident, where the brunt of the hit is on your side. You sustain several injuries that leave you incapacitated for months.
Now, the question is: can one spouse sue the other in either of these two scenarios?
Believe it or not, the short answer is yes.
So the next natural question is Will an insurance policy respond to cover my injuries/losses?
This answer to this is more complex:
Scenario #1: Sometimes
Scenario #2: Yes
Let me explain.
Scenario #1 — Injury From A Trip And Fall In The Home
In this case, there is no question that the wife is at fault for leaving the vacuum cleaner in a place that could cause an accident.
However, the homeowner’s policy would not respond to the claim, as it would specifically exclude liability for injuries for anyone who ordinarily lives in the home, not just the spouse. This includes kids, grandparents… Whoever is living in that space is subject to the policy and would therefore be excluded from liability.
This does not apply to the neighbour friend who came over for a beer and fell, as we have written about in the past.
Why can’t a spouse sue in this case?
Because of the possibility of collusion.
Collusion refers to: “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” (Merriam-Webster).
In other words, the insurance company presumes the likelihood of two people living in the same home engaging in collusion in order to obtain the ends that they want from the insurance company.
There might have been no vacuum cleaner at all, and the spouse simply slipped and fell, in which case there would be no issue of liability for the fall. But they could decide, between them, to say that the vacuum cleaner left out by the wife is what caused the accident, so that they could claim under their homeowners insurance for damages.
Scenario #2 — Injury Resulting From A Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA)
Even though the driver is married to the victim, he or she can still be held liable in the cause of an at fault accident.
It is presumed that there is no collusion in this case; that the driver would not have intentionally put their passenger, their spouse, in harm’s way, just to collect on an insurance policy.
Of course, there is such a thing as ‘staged accidents’ where collusion is in fact present, but those are dealt with on a case by case basis by the insurance company and not presumed.
So in the scenario I described, the wife could sue the husband, whose insurance company would respond on his behalf, for her injuries sustained if the husband was at fault in the MVA.
She is entitled to financial compensation for his negligence which caused her injury, even if they are covered under the same automobile insurance policy for the same vehicle.
Critical to a case like this would be for the two parties not to discuss it. It’s not always realistic to assume that a husband and wife won’t discuss a case, but it’s important to maintain the facts of the case and avoid any possibility of collusion being insinuated.
Bottom line: if you’re hurt in a motor vehicle accident to the point where you cannot continue your normal activities of living, you need to consider suing the at fault party, whether or not they also happen to be your spouse. A personal injury lawyer can review the facts of your case and help you make the right decision.
[Read more]: All You Need to Know About Insurance Surveillance