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Freehe v. Freehe

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Clifford Freehe (Plaintiff), was injured on a negligently maintained tractor owned by the Defendant, Hazel Knoblauch (Defendant), his wife. Plaintiff had no interest in the tractor or the farming operation. Plaintiff brought suit, Defendant claimed interspousal immunity.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Supreme Court of Washington abandoned the interspousal immunity rule, allowing spouses to bring suit against one another in tort.

    Facts. Plaintiff was injured on a tractor and sued for personal injuries. The tractor was the separate property of his wife, the Defendant, along with all of the assets and income of the farm on which the accident took place. Plaintiff has no interest in the farming operation, nor is he employed by the Defendant. Plaintiff brought suit, claiming negligent maintenance of the tractor and failure to warn of the tractor’s unsafe condition. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on interspousal tort immunity.

    Issue. Was the trial court correct to grant defendant summary judgment based on interspousal tort immunity?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed and remanded.
    * Interspousal immunity is a common law rule. It is based on the unity of husband and wife, whereby a wife essentially became the chattel of her husband upon marriage. This does not comport with modern reality and therefore is not a valid premise to continue to allow interspousal tort immunity.
    * A second reason for interspousal immunity is the theory that tort suits would destroy the peace and tranquility of the home. However, this court believes that if a state of peace and tranquility exists, either no action will be commenced or the spouses will allow the action to continue only as long as their personal harmony is not in jeopardy.
    * A third reason is that the injured spouse can resort to criminal and divorce laws. However, these alternatives fail to compensate for the damage done. It has also been argued that allowing such litigation would flood the courts with matrimonial disputes. This has not proved to be true in other States disallowing interspousal immunity.
    * Defendant also argues that disallowing interspousal immunity would encourage collusion and fraud due to liability insurance. However, the courts will not immunize tortfeasors from liability in a whole class of cases due to the possibility of fraud.
    * Finally, defendant argues that any change in interspousal immunity is a matter for the legislature. Since the rule was not made or sanctioned by the legislature, this Court feels free to intervene in the matter. Therefore, the rule of interspousal immunity is abandoned.

    Discussion. Interspousal immunity has been abandoned in a majority of states today.


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