In New York, the answer is yes. In 1969, in the case of Gelbman v. Gelbman, the New York Court of Appeals abolished the intrafamily immunity doctrine and permitted a mother to sue her unemancipated minor son for injuries she had sustained in an auto accident while riding as a passenger in a car her son was driving. Gelbman remains “good law” in New York.
In revoking the rule against child-parent suits for nonwillful torts, first established by the Court in its 1928 decision in Sorentino v. Sorentino, Judge Burke writing for the Court reasoned:
I see. As both a parent and defense attorney, I can relate to the "suits as punishment" concept, but what's the consequence for a kid's default? Grounding? And if the parent recovers money damages, does the kid never see his allowance again? If I had only known this when our then 17-year-old, now 21-year-old, daughter boldly declared "watch me!" after her then 15-year-old backseat driving brother excitedly uttered "you're going to hit the garage!" as his sister swung mom's Buick into -- in the fullest and most physical sense of the word -- our garage. There's a three-year SOL on property damage negligence claims in New York. You can do the math. No tolling for a parent's claim against the kid, only the other way around. Shiznits.It seems obvious that family unity can only be preserved in this case by permitting the present action. As one commentator noted, "If the action of the parent against the child is viewed as a manifestation of the parent's right to discipline and punish his child" (Note, 33 St. John's L. Rev. 310, 319) then such an action would be a proper exercise of parental authority, which authority should not be impaired by the doctrine of intrafamily tort immunity.
So aside from the involuntary-servitude-until-majority-if-a-money-judgment-is-obtained ramifications of a parent successfully suing her child, what's in it for the parent? Is there insurance coverage for the kid crashing the car into the garage? That was the real question underlying the question my insurer client first asked me yesterday.
The answer to that question is probably yes, as well, believe it or not. There would be coverage for damage to the garage but not its contents under a homeowner's policy that affords all-risk coverage for the dwelling, such as the HO-3 form, (although there would be no liability coverage for the child under such a policy by reason of its motor vehicle exclusion [see page 16 of 22 of the HO 00 03 10 00 form]). And, in answer to my client's question of yesterday afternoon, there would also be liability coverage favoring the child under a personal auto policy that provides coverage for "damages for ... 'property damage' for which any 'insured' becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident." Damaged contents could ostensibly find coverage under the family's personal auto policy.
Parents -- kids not behaving? Not cleaning their room and damaging the carpeting and walls? Sue 'em. Not in Family Court. Supreme Court. That'll get their attention. And your insurers'. But maybe not the attention you want. As in the non-renewal kind of attention.