Accident Advice Part Two: Can I Sue My Spouse Who Was Driving?

In a recent blog post, about a possible airbag lawsuit, I began addressing some questions from a mother who had a single-car accident with her husband and child as passengers. Since no other vehicles were involved, one question this family had was: “Could the husband sue the wife and her insurance company because she was driving?”


Let me explain the legal difficulties with this issue.

First, while New York does permit one spouse to sue the other, most NY insurance companies specifically exclude liability coverage for actions between spouses. You would need to check your auto policy to see what it says.

TIP: I strongly recommend to my clients that they request – and pay the extra premium for – spousal coverage. That additional premium is very small and it provides you with very important coverage if your spouse screws up while driving.

Second, unless you suffer a serious injury (see our FAQ about the definition of serious injury) New York does not permit you to bring a lawsuit after a car accident. I explain this issue in more detail in my blog post about serious injury.

It may take some time for the full extent of injuries to be apparent, so do not be hasty in making decisions. However, remember the following:

TIP: The New York State time limit in bringing an injury case is 3 years from the date of the accident. In Pennsylvania, the limit is 2 years.

Please feel free to e-mail me with questions about the legal issues surrounding car accidents and personal injury cases. And keep checking the NY Injury Law Blog for more information about these complex topics.

Thanks for reading,

James B. Reed, Esq.
Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Tel. (607) 733-8866 Fax. (607) 732-6062
Toll Free 1-800-943-3529
mailto:[email protected]

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8 thoughts on “Accident Advice Part Two: Can I Sue My Spouse Who Was Driving?

  1. My car met with an accident 5 days back and luckly we are safe.But my car’s front portion (bumper)got smashed fully while the glasses scatered,even my back end of the car is damage a little. The worst part is I have no insurence (we were planning). Do I have any possibility to claim money? or any other way to get benefited?

  2. Tina – the little bit of information provided makes it tough to give you a straight answer, but I will do my best. If You were in an accident with another vehicle, and you don’t have collision coverage, the other vehicle will still pay for your damage IF he other vehicle was at fault for the accident. If YOU were at fault for the accident, and you don’t have collision coverage, then there is no way to make someone else pay for your damage. That is the risk you take when you choose not to carry collision coverage.

    If you were in a single vehicle accident, your insurance company will only pay for the damage if you have comprehensive coverage (just like collision, but applies when there is no other vehicle involved). If you don’t have comprehensive/collision coverage and are involved in a single vehicle accident, no one can be made to pay for your damage.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

    Adam M. Gee, Esq.

  3. I was issued a citaton in Pa for an accident.
    I have a spinal cord injury but do expect a full recovery in the future.Can I sue my car insurance for anything? I exhausted my car ins medical coverage very quickly due to the hospital bills, my medical ins is covering them now & I pay the copay.
    I have used up all my sick days at work so now I am paying my medical ins.

  4. Maria:

    It’s tough to give a definitive answer from the little bit of information provided but the general rule is that you are not entitled to sue your own insurance company unless they have failed to pay for benefits that are covered under your policy. It sounds like you have already exhausted all the benefits under your policy and if that is the case, then you probably do not have a basis for suing your own insurance company for anything more. However, to be absolutely certain, I would STRONGLY urge you to consult with an experienced, local personal injury attorney. I wish you the best of luck.

    Thanks, Jim
    James B. Reed, Esq.
    Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
    Ziff Law Firm, LLP

  5. my wife let our friend drive because she was not feeling well and he totaled our jeep. will she be able to get a settlement check if the insurance was in my name and she was on the policy as a driver?

  6. Generally, if a car owner gives permission to another driver to drive their vehicle, the insurance for the vehicle still applies. This is called “a driver with permission and consent”. You should talk to your insurance agent ASAP and hopefully they can help you work through this issue. Good luck!

    Jim Reed, NY & PA Car Crash Lawyer

  7. My niece was in a car accident while driving drunk. She hit a pole. This was a result of the bartender at the bar sending a photo of my niece while passed out, to my nieces husband from her own cell phone. He arrived at the bar to pick his wife up and an argument began. He told my niece to drive her own car home. She got behind the wheel while he followed her…she hit the pole and he called 911. They arrived got information from both if them but no report was filed. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance. A toxicology screen was done at the hospital but no police were there.
    Can she sue her husband for negligence or emotional distress?
    She suffered two cracked ribs, two black eyes, numerous stickers, neck injury and the sad fact that get husband allowed her to get behind the wheel if her car. The car was totaled.
    Thank you for your time.
    Tina Maynard.
    [email protected]

  8. Wow, sad story and pity on the stupid husband who told his drunk wife to drive home. While stupid, any claim against him would be extremely difficult because generally in NY there is no legal duty to rescue another from their own dumb action of driving drunk and he would undoubtedly say she insisted on driving and he was trying to stop her. Accordingly, it is a huge “he said/she said” and usually the drunk person loses in that kind of credibility fight. Furthermore, unless they specifically requested spousal coverage on their car insurance policy, even assuming you could make out a valid negligence claim, there would not be any insurance coverage to pay any judgment against the husband.

    However, while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend pursuing a claim against the husband, NY law does provide for legal liability if a bartender serves a visibly intoxicated person. However, that law, called the dram shop law, only provides a recovery to the dependents of the intoxicated person (ie their kids or spouse) and does not permit a claim for the intoxicated person. So, here, your niece can’t pursue her own claim against the bar or bartender (although it is also a violation of the NY ABC– Alcoholic Beverage Control– law to serve an intoxicated person so she could report the bar/bartender if she wished.

    Best of luck to your niece.

    Jim Reed
    NY Car Accident Attorney
    [email protected]

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