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If you or a loved one is seriously injured in a car crash as an innocent passenger, a driver in another car might be responsible. Sometimes, though, the passenger’s driver is responsible. In Oregon, if your spouse is a passenger in a motor vehicle in which you are the driver, and you cause a crash, your spouse can and should bring a claim against you for injuries and damages. This is true even if you are both insured under the same automobile insurance policy.

Some people believe this is very strange—bring a claim or lawsuit against your spouse. However, it is not strange at all. Both the driver-spouse and the passenger-spouse paid for insurance for just such an occurrence. If a husband is injured by his wife in a car crash, and he does not bring a claim, then the family is essentially paying for insurance for nothing. Insurance companies love this. A family has paid car insurance for years and never brought a claim. Then, when tragedy happens and a family member is injured, still the spouse does not want to bring a claim. What a great business model for the insurance company—collect premiums every year from the family and then pay nothing when the family needs reimbursement most—after a loved one has been injured.

Would a wife seek payment of life insurance after her husband dies and they have paid premiums for a lifetime? Of course. She would collect the proceeds to which she is entitled. That is the way insurance works.

Would a husband seek payment from health insurance for which his wife has paid premiums? Of course. He would seek the benefits to which he is entitled.

Auto insurance is no different. If you or a loved one is injured, or worse, killed in a car crash, then the family should collect all the benefits to which it is entitled. It just makes sense.

Prior to 1988, interspousal immunity applied in Oregon, based in part on antiquated notions regarding women, and the historical inability of a married woman to sue or be sued in her own name. Courts were also concerned that actions between a husband and wife would disrupt and destroy the peace and harmony of the home, or that spouses would collude to defraud their insurance company. However, in 1988, in Heino v. Harper, 306 Or 347, 378, 759 P2d 253 (1988), the Oregon Supreme Court overturned existing law and abolished spousal immunity for negligent acts.

Spousal privilege, which allows a spouse to claim a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent the other spouse from disclosing any confidential communication made by one spouse to the other during the marriage, does not apply in any civil action where the spouses are adverse parties. (Oregon Revised Statutes 40.255(4)(c).)

In a suit or claim against you, your spouse will need to prove you were negligent and your negligence led to the damages he or she sustained. While your spouse may feel uncomfortable about making a claim against you, or that he or she is “blaming” you, it may be a financial necessity, especially when your spouse has doctor bills, misses time from work, and other damages. Saying you are legally responsible is not the same as saying you are a bad person. People make mistakes or errors in judgment all the time. You both pay for insurance to protect your family. Your spouse can forgive you, and still pursue his or her legal rights to compensation for injuries and damages.

The same attorney cannot represent both spouses where they are adverse parties. (Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7(a)(1).) Your spouse should hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Your automobile insurance company will hire an attorney for you, if necessary.

Claims and suits between spouses can be complicated. D’Amore Law Group, P.C. is experienced in handling such matters and is available for consultation at no cost to you or your spouse.

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