In order to recover following a car accident, you have to first determine who is at fault. Your car accident attorney can help with this determination. Liability cannot be placed on anyone until it is determine who caused the accident, or put another way, whose negligence lead to your injuries. Depending on how serious the car accident is, there could be very significant repair costs and medical bills. The person who is determined to be at fault is the person responsible for reimbursing the victim for their damages.
What happens when the person at fault is family?
Personal injury lawsuits, following car accidents, are very common. The defendant is usually the person or persons who were at fault in the wreck, or who were responsible for the vehicle that caused the wreck. But, what should you do if the person at fault is a relative? Clients have asked, “can I sue a family member in a car accident case?” You certainly can, but the real question is whether insurance coverage be available? Your car accident attorney can help you make that determination.
What you should know about establishing fault in a car accident
Sometimes, the most important aspect in a lawsuit is who is at fault in a car accident. In states which permit identifying one party as liable, this is often the most complicated and heated debate. Below is an explanation of how to identify who is at fault for an accident and how such determination can affect an award of damages.
Proving a theory of liability
The simple fact that the other person was driving the car that hit yours, doesn’t automatically make that person at-fault for the resulting auto accident. In some situations, the other driver will try to shift some, if not all, of the blame on you. For example, there are defenses known as contributory negligence of assumption of risk, which may create a real issue of liability in your case. If those defenses are raised, the resolution of your case may be further delayed. It is important to have as much evidence as you can to support your theory of liability, including witness testimony, if possible.
Coverage exclusions for family members
It is very common for auto insurance policies to contain an exclusion for family members or members of the same household. Depending on where you live, the court may find this type of exclusion clause to be valid or invalid. In fact, family exclusion clauses are determined to be either: (1) Entirely valid; (2) Entirely invalid; or (3) Invalid up to the statutory minimum limits of compulsory coverages. Each state has taken its own stand on the validity of family exclusion clauses.
Missouri law regarding family exclusion clauses
Missouri is one of the jurisdictions that follows the principle that a “household exclusion” is unenforceable up to the statutory liability limits, but valid as to coverage exceeding those amounts. Like many other states, Missouri has a Safety Responsibility Act, the purpose of which is to promote safe driving practices and require owners and operators of motor vehicles to be financially responsible to others for damages they cause. These jurisdictions hold that a policy’s family member exclusion is invalid only to the extent that it conflicts with the state’s Safety Responsibility Act, that is, to the statutorily imposed minimum limit of automobile liability insurance imposed by the act.
Arkansas law says the exclusions are valid
Many other jurisdictions find the family or household exclusions are valid in their entirety, despite the apparent conflict with mandatory vehicle coverage and state financial responsibility statutes. In one case in Arkansas, a wife sued her husband for injuries she sustained in an auto accident in which she was the passenger. Although the exclusion would directly conflict with the state’s compulsory motor vehicle liability insurance law, the court in that case stated that the legislature “is presumed to be aware of our decisions.” In other words, the legislature specifically provided that the compulsory insurance law was not intended to affect the validity of any policy exclusions. The legislature could have overruled the longstanding exclusions, but it did not.
Review your insurance policy to determine your coverage
The most important thing to do, if this issue ever arises, is to read your insurance policy to determine if a family or household exclusion is included. If you have questions regarding the terms of your auto insurance policy, and whether or not any exclusions are valid in your state, contact your personal injury attorney for advice.
If you have questions regarding car accidents, or any other personal injury concerns, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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