Loss of Consortium Explained
When you’ve been injured or a death occurs due to the negligent actions of another person, you have the right to legally collect monetary damages. The types of damages that you are entitled to depend on the type of injuries that were sustained.
Essentially, there are two types of damages that you can claim – economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages would consist of damages that are easy to quantify, such as loss of wages, medical bills, and property damage bills. Economic damages are those things that you have a record of. Non-economic damages are a bit more difficult to value. They include such things as pain and suffering and mental anguish. Another important non-economic damage is called loss of consortium. Loss of consortium is the loss of love, companionship, and a satisfying sexual relationship with your spouse. In this article, we’ll discuss loss of consortium, how it works and when it applies.
Economic damages can be described as money that you need to pay out of your own pocket for things such as property damage, medical expenses, loss of income, loss of earning capacity, funeral costs, cost of renting a car, domestic help, or any other expense that was caused by the negligent conduct of another person. Economic damages are the easiest damages to calculate the financial value for because you have receipts, bills, and estimates that prove that monetary value.
Noneconomic damages often include such things as disfigurement, humiliation, mental anguish, pain and suffering, permanent disability, loss of use, emotional distress, and loss of love and companionship of a spouse. It is clearly more difficult to quantify these damages because they do not have a set dollar amount associated with them. These losses can be more painful and emotionally stressful, so they are generally compensated at a much higher level. They are termed noneconomic damages because they don’t have an actual out of pocket financial value, but they are still compensated as damages.
Uninsured Drivers and Payment of Damages
In the state of California, your ability to collect damages is limited based on whether or not the car you are driving has insurance at the time of the accident that caused the damages. If the vehicle was without insurance at the time of the collision, you are only legally entitled to collect economic damages. You are not entitled to any noneconomic damages at all. If you are the passenger in an uninsured vehicle, you are legally entitled to both economic and noneconomic damages. For this reason, you should be sure the vehicle you are driving has insurance if it is not your vehicle, and always carry at least the minimum amount of legally required insurance on your own vehicles.
Loss Of Consortium Damages
California law also allows spouses to recover noneconomic damages due to what is called “loss of consortium”.
In an action to recover for loss of consortium, the spouse that was not injured will sue the negligent party for the damages they have sustained due to their inability to enjoy the spousal relationship they had prior to the accident. If the physical or mental injuries their husband or wife have sustained has compromised their ability to enjoy the love, affection, companionship, and sexual aspects of the relationship, the non-injured spouse can claim loss of consortium. This type of claim arises when one spouse is permanently injured, severely disabled, or killed by the negligent actions of another.
Even though loss of consortium damages include the suffering from the loss of the sexual relationship, loss of consortium encompasses much more than that. The damages a spouse is legally entitled to include anything relating to the injured spouse’s previously existing functions.
These can include, but are not limited to:
- caring for children
- the ability to have children
- household responsibilities
- emotional support
Loss of consortium is therefore not limited just to the decrease or change in sexual relations that may occur due to the accident. A loss of consortium claim is much broader.
Loss of consortium damages are noneconomic damages because they can not be precisely quantified. There are no receipts or bills that represent the loss. In a trial setting, the judge or jury will decide what the damages are worth. Damages are only awarded for loss of consortium if a spouse has died or been severely injured or disabled. Minor physical injuries are not considered loss of consortium.
In the state of California, you must have a valid marriage license at the time the injuries are sustained if you are going to claim loss of consortium. California jury instructions specifically define loss of consortium as “loss of the spouse’s love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace or moral support; any loss or enjoyment of sexual relations or the ability to have children, or any loss of the spouse’s physical assistance in the operation and maintenance of the home.”
A Jury’s Opinion of Loss of Consortium
If a spouse is going to claim loss of consortium, it helps to be very aware that a jury will not think favorably of one who attempts to collect damages due to minor injuries their husband or wife sustained. So even though loss of consortium is a potential claim, it is only asked for when the husband or wife of the claimant has died or suffered disabling, disfiguring, severe injuries. In fact, many attorneys will not allow a loss of consortium claim due to minor injuries for fear that the jury will think less favorably of the spouse that was injured, and will award that spouse less compensation.
Therefore, loss of consortium is a claim that should only be brought if the injuries were very severe, or resulted in the death of a spouse.