Injured Victims and Robbed Spouses: Reconciling Tort Awards with the Community Property System

Community property states have problems with their tort systems because they can harm tort victims or innocent spouses of tortfeasors. States harm tort victims by limiting their recovery to a tortfeasor’s separate property only. States harm innocent spouses by allowing tort victims to recover from the community property that the spouses share equally. Furthermore, state courts attempt to characterize torts as either separate property torts or community property torts. The court’s characterization dictates the type of property that the victims can recover. At times, courts apply their characterization tests inconsistently, leading to confusing and untenable results. This Note advocates for a bright-line rule that allows a tort victim to recover from the tortfeasor’s separate property and then up to half of the community property shared with the tortfeasor’s innocent spouse. The new rule would then grant innocent spouses a guaranteed offset at divorce to protect their property interest if the marriage dissolves.