Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



At common law an unmarried woman occupied no special status as far as tort liability was concerned, and the same rules and standards of responsibility applied to her as to society generally. Since marriage imposed upon a woman a very extensive disability, however, there developed a number of special rules concerning tort responsibility of the married woman.

Marriage did not impose upon the wife any special or peculiar liability for wrongful acts committed by her husband at common law, and, except in certain instances hereafter noted, she is not thus liable today. It is true that since the enactment of married women's emancipation statutes, enabling the wife to own and control property, a married woman may employ agents and servants. Consequently, she may be held vicariously liable for the torts of such servants or agents under modern law--a liability rarely imposed upon her under the disability of coverture, which generally prevented her from entering into contractual relationships. Therefore, if the wife today permits her husband to act for her, as agent or servant, she may be held liable for his torts committed in such capacities. This liability, however, is not predicated upon the marital relationship between the parties, although, as a practical matter, the courts may be more prone to find the existence of an agency or a master-servant relationship when the husband acts for his wife than when the wife is charged with responsibility for the acts of a third person.