What is Interspousal Tort Immunity and How Does it Apply to Auto Accidents in Georgia?

What is Interspousal Tort Immunity and How Does it Apply to Auto Accidents in Georgia?

Angie McDaniel appealed the trial court’s dismissal of her malicious prosecution claim and others against her ex-husband Nathan McDaniel and his parents for their role in her arrest for charges of sexual exploitation of children— charges that were later dismissed without prosecution. She argued that the trial court erred by finding that her claim for malicious prosecution was barred by the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity.

Under this common law doctrine (which is codified at O.C.G.A. § 19-3-8), actions between spouses for personal torts committed by one spouse against the other are barred, except where the traditional policy reasons for applying the doctrine are absent. At common law, a husband and wife were “one and the same person,” and as a result, the wife had no right of action against the husband for torts committed against her person or property by the husband, whether committed before or during the marriage. The common-law rule is still in force in the State of Georgia, except where it has been changed by express statutory enactment or by necessary implication.


As of April 9, 2014, the couple separated in preparation for a divorce, which Angie filed on May 28, 2014. She alleged that in late April 2014, Nathan’s parents gave false statements to police that resulted in Angie’s eventual arrest and her involuntary commitment for mental health issues. Angie contended that she was held in the county jail for months based on this false evidence, and although the FBI later confirmed that the evidence was planted and the charges were dismissed, she was irreparably harmed. Based on these allegations, she filed her lawsuit.

The defendants answered and moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that the statute of limitation had run on many of the claims and any timely filed claims were barred by the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity.

Although Angie responded to her ex-husband’s motion, neither she nor her attorney appeared at the hearing on the motion to dismiss. The trial court dismissed her lawsuit. But Angie argued that the trial court erred by dismissing her claim of malicious prosecution based on interspousal tort immunity.

The Court of Appeals’ Opinion

Presiding Judge Sara Doyle explained that interspousal tort immunity is a common law rule that bars claims by one spouse against another for damage from a wrongful or negligent act committed by that spouse during or before their marriage. Two policy considerations are traditionally advanced as the object of the interspousal immunity doctrine:

  • to foster marital harmony by preventing suits between spouses; and
  • to avoid fraudulent or collusive lawsuits between spouses against other parties.

The Georgia Supreme Court has explained that the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity isn’t a bar to litigation when there’s “no marital harmony” to protect and no fear of collusion between the parties. According to the allegations in the complaint, Angie and Nathan were already in the midst of a separation and pending divorce, and the tort that she alleged her ex and his family committed was committed intentionally as a means to injure her during the divorce proceedings, and it has had lasting and irreparable negative effects on her life.

The vast majority of Georgia cases in this area have applied the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity in situations where one spouse sues another for injuries from an automobile accident in which one spouse was the driver and the other the passenger.

Georgia courts agree that “when there is no marital harmony to preserve, and there exists no possibility of collusion between spouses, interspousal immunity does not automatically bar an action sounding in tort.”

Presiding Judge Doyle concluded that, based on the record at this point in the proceedings, the trial court erred by granting the motion to dismiss based on interspousal tort immunity. As a consequence, the trial court’s order was vacated to the extent that it dismissed Angie’s claims for malicious prosecution against Nathan as well as the dismissal of her derivative claims of punitive damages and attorney fees. The judgment was affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. McDaniel v. McDaniel, 2024 Ga. App. LEXIS 116 (Ga. App. March 13, 2024).


An individual who’s injured in an automobile accident while riding as a passenger in a car driven by his or her spouse may sue, claiming the injuries were caused by negligent operation of the car. The doctrine of interspousal tort immunity doctrine will not be applicable where the facts show the two had not lived together for a long period of time and that no marital relationship existed between them. In such a case, the negligent driver won’t be entitled to be shielded by the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity as a matter of law.

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