When you have to sue your spouse

Love is all you need—until you get into an accident. Then you need money, possibly a whole lot of it, to pay for medical bills, time off work, and other damages caused by that accident.

But what if the person who’s liable for the accident is the one you love the most? Do you really have to choose between paying your medical bills and standing by your man (or woman)?

Yes, if your spouse was at fault for an accident that injured you, you may have to have to name them in a lawsuit. But when you file a lawsuit in a civil case, you’re not necessarily going after the personal assets of the person who’s named as the defendant. In accident cases, with a few rare exceptions, insurance companies aren’t named in lawsuits; although the court documents look like you’re suing a person, you’re really asking for compensation from an insurance corporation.

Here’s where the situation gets tricky. Say that you’re on your way to Valentine’s Day dinner, and your husband is driving the car that the two of you share. He pulls out his phone to check a text from the babysitter, takes his eyes off the road, and plows into the back of a car that’s waiting at a stop sign.

Three people are injured in the crash: you, your husband, and the driver of the other car. All three of you have medical bills, time off work, and property damage to your vehicles. Your Valentine’s Day dinner is a pudding cup in the hospital. What happens after date night goes wrong?

You and your husband probably share an auto insurance policy. This policy probably includes Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, a payment made by your own insurance carrier that will cover certain expenses no matter how the accident happens. You and your husband both have a limit on how much PIP will pay out, but it’s not a shared bucket between the two of you; each of you has your own bucket.

Personal injury protection

The innocent bystander whose car he slammed into will probably file a lawsuit or open a claim with his insurance carrier. They’re asking for money from his Liability Coverage, a part of his policy that will pay out to another person if he causes an accident.

If your husband exhausts his PIP, he may be out of luck. He caused the accident; no one but him is liable for it. He can’t sue himself for liability. But even though the two of you are a marital unit, since you didn’t cause the accident, you can sue him to get that liability coverage. Liability coverage is a shared bucket: you and the other injured driver will both be competing for the same pool of money.

liability coverage

Let’s say that your Valentine’s Day mishap really messed you up. You recover some money from your husband’s liability coverage, but it’s not enough to cover all of your damages. If your auto insurance policy included Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage, usually called UM or UIM, then that coverage can stack on top of what you’ve already received to make up for what’s missing from liability. Hopefully, that should cover all of your damages.

uninsured motorist coverage

So yes, there are times when you may have to name your own spouse in a lawsuit, even in a perfectly healthy and happy marriage. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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