After sustaining serious injuries in an auto accident, you're entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. However, your spouse or registered domestic partner may also be entitled to collect damages for loss of consortium.
About Loss of Consortium
Consortium refers to association or companionship with another person. California law allows for loss of consortium damages in a personal injury claim as a type of non-economic damage. Examples of loss of consortium includes:
- The stress of having a spouse who is emotionally traumatized, depressed, anxious, or irritable following the accident.
- Having a spouse who is less able to help you with your own problems, stresses, and personal challenges due to the effects of the accident.
- The strain of having to handle more of the cooking, cleaning, yard work, childcare, and other household chores because your spouse is injured.
- Difficulty in pursuing a healthy sexual relationship.
- The loss of the ability to have children, if applicable.
- A reduction in the overall quality and enjoyment of your marriage.
Since loss of consortium damages are defined by the effect an accident has on a couple's relationship, it does not matter if the spouse or domestic partner was also injured in the accident. In fact, loss of consortium damages can be included even if the spouse or domestic partner was not physically present when the accident occurred.
Eligibility for Loss of Consortium Damages
To be able to seek loss of consortium damages, you must be married or in a registered domestic partnership. Unmarried individuals are not eligible for compensation, even if they've been romantically involved for several years and live in a marriage-like relationship.
Although technically any personal injury case can include loss of consortium damages, this type of compensation is generally only reserved for claims with serious injuries that result in permanent disability. Juries tend to react negatively to spouses or domestic partners seeking loss of consortium damages in smaller cases, thus creating a backlash against the core of the settlement.
A wrongful death suit is a type of personal injury claim that occurs as the result of a fatal accident. These claims seek compensation for the deceased person's medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, loss of future earnings, and the loss of companionship and relationship with the deceased person. That last type of damage is similar to loss of consortium.
Loss of Consortium and Comparative Fault
California's comparative fault system allows for drivers who are determined to be partially at fault for an accident to still collect compensation for their injuries. However, their eligibility for compensation is reduced by their assigned percentage of fault. This percentage reduction affects loss of consortium damages as well.
For example, consider a case in which the injured driver's claim seeks $20,000 in loss of consortium damages. If the driver is found to be 40 percent at fault for the accident, the claim is reduced by $8,000. As a result, the eligibility for loss of consortium damages drops to $12,000.
Pursuing Loss of Consortium Damages
To some extent, seeking loss of consortium damages means you'll be comparing your relationship before the injuries to the state of your relationship currently. If applicable, the defense is allowed to ask about prior marital difficulties or separations you've experienced. While the fear of revealing sensitive personal information should not keep you from seeking the full compensation you're legally entitled to receive, it's important to be emotionally prepared for what this can involve.
If you are interested in pursuing loss of consortium damages as part of a personal injury or wrongful death claim, hiring a skilled attorney is a must. Negotiating this type of settlement can be quite complex.
Injured persons have two years from the date of their accident to file a personal injury suit, unless the injury was caused by medical negligence. In that case, the time for bringing a claim is as short as one year. This means you should take immediate action to allow the lawyer to start to investigate the source of the damages claimed. In most cases, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claims are similar to those time limits just stated. To learn more about your legal right to compensation, please contact the dedicated team at the Inland Empire Law Group. Free, no-obligation consultations are available at either our Rancho Cucamonga or Victorville offices.