Facts: Husband and Wife separated after 16 years of marriage. Husband moved out of the marital residence. Wife filed for divorce.
After the separation but prior to the filing of the divorce complaint, Wife claims Husband assaulted her when he came to the marital residence and asked to pick up some tools and a guitar. Wife said she would not let him in and said the court should settle such issues. According to Wife, Husband became enraged, shoved his way into her home, grabbed her by her hair, threw her down some stairs, slammed her head against the steps, threatened her, swung a decorative statue at her, and told her he was going to “bash her brains in.” She claims she was finally able to get free from him and call 911 when she bit his finger.
Husband claimed the assault never happened and presented proof from a coworker that he was elsewhere at the time of the alleged assault.
In addition to seeking a divorce, Wife brought a spousal tort claim against Husband for damages arising from the assault. Wife’s dentist testified that one of Wife’s teeth was fractured and that her bridge required replacement. Wife’s treatment lasted several months and required a root canal and the placement of implants.
The trial court found Husband committed an assault and battery against Wife and awarded her compensatory damages of $38,284.10 and punitive damages of $10,000.
Until 1983, the “domestic tranquility rule” prevented any tort action between married persons during or after divorce. Once the doctrine of interspousal immunity was abolished, damages for personal injuries that occurred during the marriage may be recovered in the divorce action or in a separate tort action.
After reviewing the record, the Court commented:
Wife testified that the assault was frightening and the injuries which she received were painful. She suffered permanent injury from a fractured tooth below her gumline. Protracted and long-term dental work was required, including extraction of the tooth, root canal, dental implantation and the construction of a new bridge. Wife testified that for a period of time she was unable to consume anything but liquids and that it was humiliating and difficult to go through the lengthy dental procedures that were required. Wife further related a loss of enjoyment of life in that she constantly was scared to the point that she obtained a surveillance system to monitor the outside of her home. The record before us reveals the determination of the trial court was supported by a preponderance of the evidence.
The Court also granted Wife’s request to consider post-judgment facts, namely the fact that Husband pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault against Wife after the appeal was taken. Considering this information, the Court stated:
Inasmuch as Husband had taken the position that the assault did not happen and was fabricated by Wife, and inasmuch as he stated in his guilty plea that restitution was to be paid as set out in the divorce action, we grant Wife’s motion to consider the post-judgment facts. The information further supports our finding that the compensatory and punitive damages awards were justified.
Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
K.O.’s Comment: The September 17, 2008 opinion in Cardella v. Cardella, No. M2007-01522-COA-R3-CV, is worth reviewing for lawyers dealing with or contemplating spousal tort claims.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.