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Suing A Family Member
Though it may seem appalling to consider suing a family member, lawsuits between family members are generally a civil process that won’t actually harm the family member being sued. Most often, lawsuits for personal injury commenced against a family member are defended by an insurance company and that insurance company will take on the responsibility to pay any money owed to the victim. There are some things to consider, however, before you decide to sue a family member.
Your Family Member’s Current Situation
Consider a situation where you are walking down a staircase in your mother’s home and a stair collapsed, resulting in serious injuries. Assume that your mother knew the stairs were in bad condition and failed to warn you. You may have a viable claim for personal injuries against your mother. But can you really sue your mom and maintain your loving relationship? The answer likely depends on whether your mother maintains a homeowner’s insurance policy that will cover the accident.
If your mother carries homeowner’s insurance, your lawsuit against your mother will be defended by her insurance carrier and they will likely pay any monetary damages owed to you if your mother was responsible for your injuries. In this situation, your mother would not suffer any financial hardships as a result of your lawsuit against her. This example clearly demonstrates how having adequate insurance can protect family members if they get sued and allows injured victims to have recourse to recover money from their injuries without having to worry about bankrupting a family member.
If you are involved in a car accident where you make a driving error, resulting in injury to your spouse passenger, she may be able to sue you and recover insurance proceeds. Furthermore, if your spouse loses their life in the accident, their relatives can file a wrongful death claim.
A “friendly claim” is a claim that is guaranteed to only pay out damages from your car insurance policy, incurring on the policy holder no cost. This is a situation where you (the person being sued) would likely be fine with a member of your family suing and would probably even encourage it. Policyholders usually must opt-in to have such coverage on their policy.
If a family member is uninsured, the situation is completely different. Bringing a lawsuit against an uninsured person subjects that person to complete responsibility for any damages they may have incurred as a result of your injury. For example, if the jury awarded you $100,000 in damages for the injuries you sustained on your mother’s staircase, she would be responsible for paying out the entirety of that award. Here, there could be animosity created between you and your mother, because you are now suing her directly, not the insurance company.
Ultimately, you should consider your family member’s financial and emotional situation before filing suit. If the relative you seek to has adequate insurance coverage, suing them will likely be a far more congenial affair. In contrast, if you know that your relative is in a tough spot financially and has no insurance to cover them in a lawsuit, you might think about finding an alternative solution to your dispute. If you are going to sue a family member, you may be well advised to let your relative know you are not seeking a dime from them personally, but are using a civil process to recover desperately insurance proceeds to adequately compensate you for your devastating injuries, loss of wages, and future medical treatment.
Though your relative’s situation is important to consider, you must also think of yourself. If your injuries are severe, you may have already incurred a great cost from medical bills, physical therapy, and accommodations to help you adjust to living with such injuries (cane, wheelchair, etc.). Also, you may have missed a great deal of work, or can no longer work at all. In a situation like this, there is often no choice but to sue, even if doing so might create turbulence between you and your relative.