Did you know that, in Arkansas, a minor child generally cannot sue his or her parent for negligence?
This is known as the parental-immunity doctrine. And while many states have abrogated the doctrine, Arkansas continues to apply the doctrine in most cases.
There are a couple exceptions, however. First, the doctrine does not apply when a parent commits an intentional or willful tort. Attwood v. Estate of Attwood, 276 Ark. 230, 633 S.W.2d 366 (1982) (declining to apply the parental-immunity doctrine where a father became willfully and intentionally intoxicated, drove a vehicle while intoxicated with his child as a passenger, and injured that child).
Second, specific to motor vehicle accident cases, the Arkansas Supreme Court created the “Fields exception,” which applies when there is a direct-action suit against a motor vehicle liability insurance carrier, as opposed to a negligence suit against a parent. Fields v. Southern Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co., 350 Ark. 75, 87 S.W.3d 224 (2002).
In the Fields case, a minor child was compelled to sue his own insurance company, Farm Bureau, because the company refused to pay uninsured motorist benefits to the child, who was injured in a car accident while his mother was driving. Because his mother was driving, Farm Bureau argued that the child was not legally entitled to collect the uninsured motorist benefit, even though the claim was not against the mother.
The Arkansas Supreme Court found that the traditional policy reasons supporting the parental-immunity doctrine do not apply when a claim is made directly against an insurance carrier. The reason is obvious – when one brings a claim directly against his or her insurance company, it is the insurance company that is the true adversary, not a parent.
On March 18, 2021, in a majority opinion, the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with Reed Firm and found that the Fields exception also applies to claims for underinsured motorist coverage because there is no distinction between uninsured and underinsured for purposes of parental immunity.
The case, Tomey v. Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company, 2021 Ark. 62, can be found here: https://opinions.arcourts.gov/ark/supremecourt/en/nav Just scroll till you see the case. The oral argument can be seen here: https://www.arcourts.gov/courts/supreme-court/oral-argument-videos/sc