Immunity - Can a person bring a cause of action in tort against their spouse under Tennessee law?

Posted on Jan 22 2013 2:44PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  The spousal immunity doctrine preventing causes of action in tort against a spouse no longer applies in Tennessee.  It was abolished by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1983 in Davis v. Davis, 657 S.W.2d 753 (Tenn. 1983).


Analysis:  I received a question about whether Tennessee law allows a person to bring a tort cause of action against their spouse.  I thought this was a good topic for a blog post.  Historically, Tennessee applied the doctrine of "interspousal immunity" as a bar for an individual's cause of action against their spouse.  The Tennessee Supreme Court abolished this rule in 1983 with the decision of Davis v. Davis, 657 S.W.2d 753 (Tenn. 1983). 


The Tennessee Supreme Court in Davis discussed, in detail, the historical reasons and arguments for the "interspousal immunity" doctrine in Tennessee and in other states. Davis at 754 – 759.  (This is a very interesting discussion about the reasons and historical underpinnings for this doctrine if you are interested in this type of thing).  In 1983, when this decision was issued, states were turning away from this doctrine.

The Tennessee Supreme Court found that it was appropriate to abolish the "interspousal immunity" doctrine because the original reasons for the doctrine had been largely abandoned.  The court stated that "no plausible reasons for retaining it, and cognizant of the high cost exacted by the rule because of the absolute bar it places in the path of potentially meritorious claims, we hold that interspousal tort immunity is totally abolished in this State."  Davis at 759.

TAGS: Negligence, Defenses, Immunity
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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