On Suing Friends or Family Members

Posted by Benjamin P. Melnick | Sep 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

This is a question that commonly comes up in the context of a passenger injured in a motor vehicle collision. As personal injury attorneys, it is our job to allow our clients to make informed decisions about the important aspects of their case.  This includes forecasting potential problems with our clients' cases, researching solutions, and advising our clients on the pros and cons of each.  Often, we will make recommendations based on what we think is most likely to allow our clients to achieve full compensation and be made as whole as possible from their damages. 

To collect full damages, we keep an eye toward who might be legally responsible, and who might be on a verdict form if the case were to go to trial. The jury is tasked with allocating fault between potentially responsible actors. Fault is a percentage zero through 100. The only way to get 100% of the damages is to have 100% of the responsible parties involved in the lawsuit.

So why would you have to sue a friend or family member?

Many times, people are friends or family members with a person driving the car at the time of the collision. In some of those cases, the person driving the car may be wholly or partially at fault. Other times, another driver may be 100% responsible for the collision and resulting damages. If the driver of our client's car is a friend or family member, and we have an inclination that the family member might bear some legal responsibility for causing the collision, our client is left with a tough choice.

Do you bring an insurance claim and possibly a lawsuit against a friend or family member, or do you leave open the possibility of not collecting your full damages?

If we can make an ally of the friend or family member, it might be advantageous to have them be a defendant, encouraging the insurance carrier and the jury to award full damages. On the other hand, many people do not want to be sued. It might create friction in an otherwise healthy family relationship or friendship. Even though we sue people typically to access their insurance coverage, and the insurance company will hire a lawyer to defend the case, many people simply do not want to bring a lawsuit for any reason.

There is no easy answer, and there is no right answer. Sometimes, my job is to spot that this might be an issue, and I try to give my clients enough information that they can feel comfortable making a decision whether to move forward with a claim.

About the Author

Benjamin P. Melnick

Ben Melnick joined the firm in 2018. He graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor's degree in 2010, and went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from Gonzaga University School of Law. In 2016, he was named as the Clark County Bar Association's Rising Star. His practice focuses on personal injury, auto accidents, biking accidents, wrongful death, and insurance disputes. Outside work, Ben likes spend time with his wife outdoors—mostly running, hiking, and skiing—and playing soccer.


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