Can I Sue a Family Member for Assault or Battery?

Family … you can’t live with ’em … can’t shoot ’em. But can you sue them for assault or battery? The answer may depend on where you live. But should you? That’s totally your call, but we can touch on that.

Hatfields and McCoys

Sometimes we hurt the people we love the most, and families fall smack dab in the middle of that. Unfortunately family members do assault and batter fellow family members. Assault, which is threatened bodily harm, and battery, which is unwanted physical touching, can come at the hands of anyone.

A few states bar tort lawsuits between family members, since it is not allowed for public policy reasons under common law, but many of them will make an exception for intentional torts, such as assault and battery. If the family members are removed by a degree of separation, such as cousins, or uncles, the suit may be more common, since there can be, in essence, two families.

Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

Back in 2015, there was a lawsuit in which an aunt sued her 12-year-old nephew for hugging her too hard at his birthday party. He greeted her with a little too much gusto. She didn’t appear hurt afterwards, though she claimed that was only an appearance so that she wouldn’t spoil his party.

She later sued for $127,000 because the hug damaged her wrist to the point that it hurt to serve hors d’oeuvres at a party she hosted, and to climb the stairs to her third floor walk-up in Manhattan. The poor boy sat at the defense table, scared, sitting with his father because his mother had died the prior year. The jury sided with the defendant because they felt there was no compensable injury. This is one of those family lawsuits you may want to just let go. So what about if it’s the same family, or in the same house?

Domestic Violence — a Different Crime

If the victim and assailant live in the same house, the crime may fall under a different statute – domestic violence. These tort laws allow you to either recover damages or get injunctive relief. Domestic violence doesn’t have to just mean your spouse or partner or significant other. It usually means anyone living in your house, which often includes siblings, usually minor siblings.

Even if you can sue your spouse, one has to weigh the purpose of doing so. A lawsuit award is considered separate property, and so if one spouse won an award over the other, he or she would have to keep it as separate property, or the co-mingling of the funds would bring it back into community property. This may be difficult, though not impossible, if the only asset available was, say, the family car or family house. Some creativity would have to be used to keep some percentage of title separate. If, however, a legal separation or divorce is eminent, then by all means, forge ahead.

Also keep in mind that a minor can’t file a lawsuit, nor can a minor be a defendant in a lawsuit. Therefore, if a minor sibling wanted to sue another minor sibling in the house, you would actually have a parent suing a parent. This may be more trouble and mess than it’s worth. You may just have to pick sides on this one and settle within the confines of your four walls.

Nothing here actually prevents you from suing a family member for assault or battery. It just gets complicated. But then again, when is family not complicated? If you want to talk about your case with a legal professional to find out if it is worth pursuing, contact a local personal injury attorney. Don’t worry — they have heard it all before. You won’t shock anyone by saying you had a fight with a family member. And after all, such feuds are part of Americana.

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