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Haumschild v. Continental Casualty Co.

    Brief Fact Summary
    Mrs. Haumschild (Plaintiff) was injured as a result of her husband’s negligence while they were traveling in California.  She brought suit in Wisconsin where they lived.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    Interspousal immunity for tort actions is a rule of family law and not tort law and the law of the spouses’ domicile governs, not the law of the place where the wrong occurred.

    Facts
    Mrs. Haumschild (Plaintiff) and her husband (Defendant) were residents of Wisconsin travelling in California.  While in California, Plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident as a result of her husband’s negligence.  California law prohibited a husband or wife from bringing suit against a spouse for negligence, however, the law of Wisconsin did not.  Mrs. Haumschild (Plaintiff) sued her husband (Defendant) in Wisconsin.

    Issue
    Where the place of the wrong prohibits husbands and wives from suing each other for negligence, may the court of the spouses’ domicile apply its own law which would allow such suits?

    Held
    (Currie, J.)  Yes.  Where the place of the wrong prohibits husbands and wives from suing each other for negligence, the court of the spouses’ domicile may apply its own law that would allow such suits.  This case presents the issue of capacity to sue due to marital status.  This relates to substantive family law and not to substantive tort law.  While the majority of the states recognize the place of the wrong as governing capacity, we feel that the state of the domicile has a greater interest in such cases than the state where the wrong took place.  While California’s conflict of laws rule would refer to our law to determine the wife’s capacity, we do not feel it proper to resort to the awkward principles of renvoi to accomplish what we feel to be the desired result.  The law of the place of the wrong will govern as to substantive tort law, but the law of the domicile will govern as to capacity to sue.  Mrs. Haumschild (Plaintiff) should be allowed to recover.  Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion
    If the state of domicile will govern on the issue of interspousal immunity, then a California wife injured by her husband would be denied recovery in a Wisconsin court.  But if the state of domicile views the immunity question as procedural tort law, the court’s decision would appear unsatisfactory.  Wisconsin would then be imposing its substantive family law in substitution for the other state’s procedural tort law.  However, on balance, the Wisconsin court’s approach would appear to be well-reasoned, since the marital partners’ expectations (one could suppose) would appear to be grounded in their domicile’s family law.


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