Review of California's Loss of Consortium Law
Loss of consortium is a legal term that describes the loss of love and companionship. It can also refer to sexual relations between spouses or partners.
In other words, it is the loss of companionship, moral support, or intimacy following a wrongful injury to someone's spouse or a registered domestic partner in California.
Loss of consortium entitles a plaintiff to recover non-economic compensatory damages. They are subjective damages to compensate somebody for the loss of the spouse's or domestic partner's normal relations.
The recovery, however, doesn't include economic losses like their spouse's medical bills or lost earning capacity, which makes these similar to pain and suffering damages.
When someone suffers an injury through someone else's negligence, their spouse or domestic partner may be able to bring a separate personal injury suit claiming loss of consortium if the injury negatively affects their relationship.
Likewise, a bereaved spouse or partner may also claim loss of consortium in a wrongful death lawsuit.
California has specific laws and criteria defining loss of consortium and who may claim it—although there are no clear guidelines on claiming damages since the loss of consortium is a non-economic type of loss.
In a loss of consortium lawsuit, it will need to be proven someone's negligence injured the spouse. They were married or registered partners to the victim. The plaintiff suffered a loss of their spouse's consortium, which was due to the defendant's wrongful act.
Our California personal injury lawyers will examine the laws more closely below.
What is a Loss of Consortium Claim?
A loss of consortium personal injury lawsuit is a claim brought by the spouse or partner or someone who has been injured or killed due to someone else's negligence.
It may be brought as a separate lawsuit alongside the victim's personal injury claim, or it may be part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the spouse/partner of the deceased
As stated in California Civil Jury Instructions 3920, "loss of consortium" is defined as:
- “The loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support, losing the enjoyment of sexual relation, or the ability to have children."
In short, if you're claiming loss of consortium, you are saying the accident in question has created changes in your spouse or partner's abilities or behaviors, so they can no longer provide specific relational qualities that a spouse or partner would typically offer.
Thus, in California, only spouses and registered domestic partners who live with each other may claim loss of consortium in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
A person could not claim loss of consortium if they were merely dating or related to the victim in some way other than a marital or conjugal relationship.
Plaintiffs may recover non-economic damages in any reasonable amount determined by a jury. There is no fixed standard for loss of consortium damages, meaning the more severe and long-lasting the injury, the larger the award.
Proving Loss of Consortium in California
To successfully claim loss of consortium in California, you must demonstrate all four of the following facts to the court:
- You were lawfully married to, or in a registered domestic partnership with, the victim at the time of the accident;
- Your spouse/partner was wrongfully injured or killed due to the defendant's negligence;
- You have suffered a loss of consortium; and
- The injury caused the loss of consortium to your spouse/partner.
Put simply, a plaintiff must prove they had a valid marriage or partnership with the injured person when the accident occurred.
To be successful in a claim for loss of consortium, the plaintiff also has to prove that somebody committed a wrongful act against their spouse or domestic partner.
Further, the wrongful actions causing the injury must be based on negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional.
Finally, the plaintiff must also prove the loss of their spouse's consortium was caused by the defendant's wrongful act
Types of Damages in a Loss of Consortium Claim
Loss of consortium is a non-monetary claim because no cash value can be attributed to intangible losses like companionship or sexual enjoyment.
For that reason, California offers no guidance on how much to ask for in damages or how money should be awarded in a loss of consortium claim.
Other than that, the jury should use their own best judgment and award a "reasonable amount" based on the circumstances of the case.
As a rule of thumb, as noted above, the more serious the injury and the longer the expected recovery time, the higher the award should be.
If the victim's injuries have caused permanent damage, for example, a loss of consortium award would be based on the plaintiff's life expectancy or the injured spouse, whichever is shorter.
If the injury to the spouse is permanent, then the damages can extend until the anticipated end of life or which spouse has a shorter life expectancy.
What Damages May Not Be Claimed?
By California law, you may not claim the following damages as part of your loss of consortium suit:
- Any loss of income due to your spouse/partner's injury or death,
- Any loss of your income—that is, income or employment you've given up to take care of your spouse,
- Compensation for "personal services" (e.g., nursing or home care) that you provide to your spouse/partner while injured,
- Cost of hiring replacement services (e.g., housekeeping) to cover for tasks your spouse/partner would have done.
The above are considered specific economic damages, so they don't fall into the loss of consortium.
However, some of these losses may be claimed as part of your spouse's claim or as part of a more significant wrongful death claim (if the accident took your spouse's life).
How to File a Loss of Consortium Claim
You may be eligible to receive damages under California's loss of consortium laws if the injury to your spouse or partner has created a loss in your relationship.
You will file a personal injury claim separately from any suit your spouse is bringing, and you can do so whether or not your spouse brings their own lawsuit.
However, timing may be of the essence. If your spouse brings a personal injury suit and loses, it will negate your loss of consortium claim because the court has already ruled in favor of the defendant.
If your spouse was seriously injured by another person's negligence or wrongful act, then reach out to our office to review the details of the incident and potential legal options. You might be entitled to financial compensation.
Injury Justice Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County and represents victims across Southern California. We offer a free case review by calling (818) 781-1570 or filling out our contact form.