Law School Case Brief
Freehe v. Freehe - 81 Wash. 2d 183, 500 P.2d 771 (1972)
The Supreme Court of Washington believes the interest of justice would best be served in these cases by a rule that compensates the injured spouse without unduly benefitting the tort-feasor spouse. The following formula should be used: (1) Special damages, including established future specials, are recoverable by the community. These are actual, out-of-pocket expenses which are a community liability. (2) General damages for loss of future earnings which would have constituted community property are recoverable in the fraction of one-half, by the injured spouse, as his or her separate property. (3) General damages compensating for pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc., are fully recoverable and are the separate property of the injured spouse.
Plaintiff, Clifford Freehe, sought compensation for personal injuries allegedly sustained due to Hazel Knoblauch Freehe's negligent maintenance of a tractor and failure to warn Clifford of the tractor's unsafe condition. The claim for relief would be just the normal action in tort for personal injury but for the fact that Hazel is the wife of Clifford, thus bringing into issue the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity. The farm on which the accident took place is the separate property of Hazel, doing business under the name of Hazel Knoblauch. The tractor involved in this accident, together with all other assets and income of the farm, were and remain the separate property of Hazel. The business of the farm is carried on separately from any community business of the parties. Clifford has no interest in the farming operation. Neither was he employed by Hazel. The trial court granted Hazel's motion for summary judgment solely on the basis of interspousal tort immunity. Clifford appealed.
Can a married person sue their tortfeasor spouse?
The court reversed and expressly overruled the doctrine of interspousal disability in personal injury cases (or interspousal tort immunity). The court found that ancient policy reasons supporting this doctrine were no longer applicable by today's standards. The court found that Wash. Rev. Code § 26.16.150 allowed a married person to sue their tortfeasor spouse. To eliminate the possibility of a tortfeasor spouse sharing the injured spouse's recovery in a community property state, the court devised a formula for allocating damages. The formula provides that special damages are recoverable by the community, general damages for loss of future earnings are fifty percent recoverable by injured spouse as separate property and general damages are separate property of injured spouse.
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