When a loved one dies because of an accident, their close relatives can claim loss of consortium, which is the emotional harm they suffer. This claim is attached to the victim's personal injury lawsuit, not made on its own as a separate suit.
In other words, the loss of consortium is a non-financial loss impacting spouses after a traumatic accident. In California, a spouse or domestic partner of accident victims can file a claim for loss of consortium if they can prove their right to financial compensation.
In California, loss of consortium is the legal term describing the emotional harm the family members or loved ones of an accident victim experience. It is sometimes called a “loss of companionship,” “loss of services,” or “lost intimacy.”
This claim aims to compensate the victim's loved ones for their emotional suffering, which was a direct result of the accident. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3920 explain the loss of consortium. It says a few factors must be considered in the loss of consortium claims under California law.
After a wrongful death or an accident where one spouse is injured, the other spouse can file a consortium claim to seek compensation for the:
- loss of love,
- moral support and
- the loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations or the ability to have children.
CACI 3920 also says, “No fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of these damages. You must use your judgment to decide a reasonable amount based on the evidence and common sense.”
What does that mean exactly? It means both spouses must prove how much they are entitled to recover. Notably, only uninjured spouses or registered domestic partners can file a loss of consortium claim in California. Unmarried cohabitants and romantic partners are not legally entitled to consortium compensation. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
What About Emotional Harm in Loss of Consortium?
The emotional suffering that a victim's family goes through can look like any of the following examples:
- Sorrow from providing care for the victim,
- Losing marital benefits,
- Making lifestyle changes to accommodate the victim's injuries,
- Changing living arrangements,
- Being unable to ask the victim for advice, and
- The agony of seeing your loved one hurt and suffering.
Why Are Loss of Consortium Claims Different?
With medical bills, the monetary value of damages is straightforward to understand and layout for the paying party. But the loss of consortium is harder to quantify. The close relatives of a victim deserve to be compensated for their hardship.
Again, this type of lawsuit will attach to the personal injury that the victim files. Loss of consortium tends to fall into cases involving car accidents, medical malpractice, slip and fall, and wrongful death cases.
Generally, the victim's loved ones will make a loss of consortium claim. Because this type of claim is linked to a more significant personal injury lawsuit, it will fail if the personal injury suit fails. They are inextricably linked in this way.
Claims for loss of consortium can only be made by spouses. The law bars unmarried cohabitants, engaged couples, victims' stepparents, or siblings from receiving compensation for their loss.
Regarding shared fault rules, meaning both parties are at fault for an accident. Comparative negligence allows the family of victims to recover damages, less their percentage of responsibility. Loss of consortium claims is linked to the personal injury lawsuit, which also means their share can be reduced because of their loved one's fault in the accident.
What are the California Laws on Loss of Consortium?
In California, only spouses and domestic partners can receive loss consortium compensation. To recover this payment, the spouse must show the following:
- There was a lawful marriage in place,
- The victim suffered an injury in the accident,
- The scope of the unharmed spouse's loss of consortium, and
- The defendant's actions were the proximate cause of the loss of consortium.
Further, the couple must be married at the time of the injury, even if not during the accident. For instance, if the victim is hurt before marriage but only discovers the injury after the marriage, their spouse can still claim loss of consortium.
California cannot limit what the spouse has suffered. The court can award prospective damages if the spouse's loss of consortium is sufficient and certain to occur. Future damages are linked to the victim and spouse's life expectancy, whichever is shorter.
And just like we explained above, loss of consortium and the personal injury suit are linked. If the personal injury lawsuit fails, so does the loss of the consortium claim. A seasoned attorney can advise you regarding personal injury and loss of consortium claims.
How Does an Injured Spouse Prove a Claim?
A primary question includes what exactly is fair compensation for no longer being able to maintain the marital relationship you previously enjoyed with your spouse or domestic partner?
To determine how much to seek in your loss of consortium claim, you must work with your attorney to place an appropriate dollar amount on your losses.
Depending on your circumstances, your lawyer might use expert testimony from a psychologist, marriage therapist, or other professionals to address some essential questions, such as the following:
- How has the injury impacted your marital relationship?
- How has the injury impacted your overall quality of life?
- How has the injury negatively impacted their ability to show affection?
- How has the injury negatively impacted companionship?
- How has the injury negatively impacted moral support?
- How long do you believe the negative impacts will last?
- Are the effects of the injury permanent?
- Is your spouse unable to still have sexual relations?
- Is your spouse unable to now have children?
All these factors listed above will impact the value of your loss of consortium claim. With the use of expert testimony and other types of evidence, your personal injury lawyer will work to determine an appropriate dollar amount for the past and future loss of the companionship.
You need to understand that there are some things that your loss of consortium claim will not cover. This includes loss of financial support due to your spouse's inability to work and personal services like a caretaker to provide for your injured spouse.
It will also not include loss of earnings if you leave your job to care for your spouse and any costs incurred to pay for domestic household services that your injured spouse previously did themselves. Your attorney will typically present evidence to negotiate for an out-of-court settlement.
Regarding the length of time, you can seek compensation for the loss of consortium. There is no specific duration or end date under the law. However, CACI 3920 says a spouse can seek compensation for loss of consortium due to a reduction in their spouse's expected lifespan.
For more information, contact our law firm for a free case evaluation. The Injury Justice Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.