Understanding Loss of Consortium in California
If your spouse suffered a recent injury in an accident, you are probably experiencing a difficult time.
You are probably concerned about your spouse’s current and future health and also stressed about the effect of your spouse’s injuries on your marital relationship.
In California, you may be able to recover damages for the impact your partner’s injuries have had on your marriage.
Here, we will discuss some of the basics of a California loss of consortium claim.
What Is Loss of Consortium?
Loss of consortium is a type of claim you can file if your spouse is injured or killed as a result of another party’s negligent or intentional conduct.
You can bring a claim against a responsible party if your spouse’s injuries deprive you of the enjoyment of your spouse’s companionship, support, comfort, guidance, and/or sexual relations.
A court may find the responsible party liable in a loss of consortium action even if they did not act with the intent to damage your marriage.
What Types of Accidents Lead to Loss of Consortium Claims?
Any injury to your spouse caused by another person’s negligence or intentional actions may lead to a loss of consortium claim. Physical injuries that impair mobility as well as emotional injuries such as depression or PTSD can affect your marital relationship.
If you are no longer able to enjoy your spouse’s company in the same way that you did prior to their accident, you can bring a California loss of consortium claim.
Car accidents, defective product accidents, and medical malpractice are examples where negligent conduct may result in such injuries.
Intentional conduct by a responsible party, such as assault or battery, can also lead to a loss of consortium claim.
Your spouse’s injuries do not have to be permanent or severe for you to file a loss of consortium claim. You need to prove only that your partner’s injuries have affected some aspect of your marriage to recover damages.
How Do You Prove a Loss of Consortium Claim in California?
You must prove four elements to prove a California loss of consortium claim.
Valid and Lawful Marriage
You and your partner must be married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of the accident.
If you and your partner are cohabiting but not married, you unfortunately cannot bring a claim.
Tortious Injury to One Spouse
One spouse must have suffered personal injury as a result of another party’s failure to take reasonable care. This means that your spouse will have a separate personal injury claim against the defendant.
If both you and your spouse sustained injuries in an accident, you can still file a loss of consortium claim. As long as someone else’s conduct caused your spouse’s injuries, you may proceed with your claim.
Loss of Consortium Suffered by the Non-Injured Spouse
The non-injured spouse must show that they lost the enjoyment of some aspect of their relationship with their injured spouse.
The injured spouse’s abilities or behavior needs to have changed to prove this element. Such changes can include:
- The inability to perform household duties or assist in raising children;
- Changes in mood such as irritability, depression, or anxiety;
- Inability to engage in recreational activities that you and your spouse once enjoyed together; or
- Changes in the ability or desire to engage in sexual relations.
These are only a few examples of marital changes that can result in a loss of consortium claim in California. An experienced attorney will know whether the changes in your relationship may give rise to a claim.
You must prove that the injuries that resulted from the defendant’s conduct, and not another factor, are responsible for the changes in your marriage relationship.
For example, if your spouse’s irritability is due to new stresses at work rather than shock from a recent accident, you cannot recover damages.
How to Calculate Loss of Consortium Damages
You can recover noneconomic damages for a loss of consortium claim in California.
Noneconomic damages are compensation for intangible losses. Intangible losses include things like the estimated monetary value of your spouse’s former ability to engage in activities with you.
You cannot recover for tangible losses, such as wages that your spouse lost as a result of the accident. Additionally, in California, a court may reduce your loss of consortium recovery proportionately to any negligence by your injured spouse.
There is no concrete formula used to calculate loss of consortium damages. The jury or judge will make their best effort to estimate the value of whatever aspect of your marriage was damaged due to your spouse’s injuries. A number of factors, such as the stability of your marriage prior to the accident, are considered when calculating damages.
In California, the amount you can recover from a loss of consortium claim may be affected by an insurance company’s policy limits. For example, most car insurance policies have coverage limits of $15,000 per person per accident. Even though loss of consortium is a separate claim, the insurance company will include it as part of the damages paid to compensate the injured spouse. So the insurance company will not pay you more than $15,000 for your spouse’s injuries plus your loss of consortium.
Additionally, California law imposes a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. However, this cap applies to each spouse individually. So if your spouse was injured by medical malpractice, you could recover up to $250,000 for loss of consortium.
How Do You Prove Damages?
To prove damages, you must show that a particular aspect of your marriage is diminished after the accident compared to how it was before the accident.
You will have to present evidence to show what kind of emotional support, companionship, sexual relations, etc. you had with your spouse prior to your spouse’s accident. Presenting a picture of your marriage before your spouse’s injury can involve discussing intimate or private details. A skilled loss of consortium attorney can tell you what to expect from the process of proving damages in your claim.
You must then present evidence of how your marital relationship has changed since your spouse’s injury. This may vary in difficulty depending on which aspects of your marriage have been affected. It is much easier to prove that your spouse’s loss of mobility has diminished their ability to help you with parenting than it is to prove that your partner’s emotional changes have decreased their ability to support you emotionally.
Why Hire an Attorney?
An attorney will know whether your loss of consortium claim is likely to succeed. If you yourself have no injuries and your spouse’s injuries are minor, a jury may not award you much in damages. In cases like these, it may not be worth the time and legal fees to bring a loss of consortium claim.
In addition, if your spouse is already pursuing a claim for their personal injuries, a jury may view your loss of consortium claim as an attempt at a double recovery if your spouse’s injuries are temporary and less severe.
An attorney can also sit down with you and discuss the reality of proving your loss of consortium claim. An experienced personal injury attorney will know what information about your marriage you are likely to have to present to prove your claim.
Talking to an attorney can help you decide whether you want to proceed with your claim in light of privacy concerns.
The Wakeford Law Firm is available to take your call and start discussing your loss of consortium claim. Wesley Wakeford has almost 20 years of experience as a personal injury lawyer. During his career, he has litigated many cases, achieving successful outcomes for his clients. The Wakeford Law Firm is ready to provide you with knowledgeable and responsive representation both in and out of the courtroom.