Schollenberger Januzzi & Wolfe, LLP | Attorneys At Law

Would you ever sue a family member if a big enough legal conflict arose? What would it take for you to take a relative to court, and what would you hope to gain from it? Although most people are unwilling to drive wedges between family members at the risk of causing irreparable harm to lifelong relationships, some circumstances can prompt people to take legal action against one of their own.

Take the case of a motorcyclist from Windber, Pennsylvania, who crashed his motorcycle last October. The man’s 4-year-old nephew, who was riding on the bike’s fuel tank, was seriously injured in the crash, and police say the man was driving drunk at the time. He’s scheduled to face trial in court on charges of aggravated assault while driving drunk, DUI, child endangerment and others.

The 4-year-old boy suffered broken ribs, along with liver, spleen and lung injuries in the crash, which happened when his uncle hit a guide rail. The man blamed leaves on the road for the crash, but investigators said he had a blood alcohol level of .19 percent, which is more than twice the state’s legal driving limit. Regardless of whether he’s convicted of driving drunk, he should not have allowed the child to ride as a passenger on his motorcycle, let alone on the fuel tank. Pennsylvania doesn’t have minimum age for passengers as some states do, but very small children lack the strength, skills and size to ride a motorcycle safely. They may not be able to reach the footrests, hold on to the driver adequately or follow the driver’s safety instructions.

Although common law once prohibited immediate family members from suing each other, intra-family immunity is no longer an adequate defense in most states. The boy’s parents could decide to sue the uncle for medical expenses and punitive damages. While filing a lawsuit against the brother of one of the parents might sound harsh, the man has already created a major conflict with the accident itself.

Source: The Tribune-Democrat, “Windber man to face trial for motorcycle crash with nephew,” David Hurst, Jan. 30, 2012