When a tort of a personal nature, as assault and battery, a false imprisonment, a libel, a slander, a malicious prosecution, or the like, is committed upon two or more, the right of action must, except in a very few special cases, be several. In order that a joint action may be possible, there must be some prior bond of legal union between the persons injured, such as partnership relation, of such a nature that the tort interferes with it, and by virtue of that very interference produces a wrong and consequent damage common to all. Not every prior existing legal relation between two parties will impress a joint character upon the injury and damage. Thus, if a husband and wife be libeled, or slandered, or beaten, although there is a close legal relation between the parties, it is not one which can be affected by such a wrong, and no joint cause of action will arise.
Plaintiffs, husband and wife, were staying as guests in the defendant hotel. An agent of the hotel roused the husband and wife by rapping the door and acting in a rude and insulting manner. As a result, plaintiffs felt compelled to leave the hotel at midnight and seek another lodging place. In a suit for damages, the husband and wife alleged that they were greatly injured in their reputations, credit, and business. Defendants separately demurred to the complaint upon the ground that several causes of action had been improperly joined because the several causes of action united did not affect all the parties to the action. The circuit court overruled the demurrer, and the defendants appealed. The State Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s order overruling the demurrer.
Can a husband and wife maintain a joint action and recover joint damages for their separate injuries from tort?
The demurrer should have been sustained. Both actions were for the personal tort of a breach of duty growing out of the relationship of the parties, and both arose out of the same transaction. However, from the allegations of the complaint, it was apparent that the rights invaded, and the injuries sustained were necessarily several, and plaintiffs could not maintain a joint action and recover joint damages from the injuries. The wife's cause of action did not "affect" the husband, and the husband's did not "affect the wife," as required by Code Civ. Proc. 1912, § 218. Neither the husband nor the wife had a legal interest in the pecuniary recovery of the other. Further, neither the husband nor the wife had a right to sue for the benefit of the other.