If your spouse or loved one has suffered a life-changing injury through no fault of their own, you might unfortunately be familiar with this term. It’s commonly used when judges and lawyers talk about the kinds of claims spouses bring in personal injury lawsuits when their mates are physically injured. When someone is injured so severely that he or she cannot give the services, companionship, love, affection and sexual relations experienced before the accident, that is considered loss of consortium.
Loss of consortium claims become more significant when an injured person has a debilitating injury that he or she will never fully recover from, such as paralysis, losing a sense like sight or hearing, and loss of sexual function. Juries have been known to award a range of awards, sometimes quite high, to compensate for these life-long tragedies.
In the state of Washington, children can also make a loss of consortium claim if their parents’ ability to continue to give them love, care, and guidance; conversely, parents can sue for loss of consortium in the loss of a child’s love and companionship.
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to conjure scenarios where this right would come to play. Imagine if your spouse was blinded, suddenly. Life would change immensely. Not only would your home have to be retrofitted to be accessible to a blind person, your day to day life would have to change to compensate for their disability. For example, you would have to be responsible for tasks that your spouse would have otherwise been able to do, such as housework, yardwork, cooking, and driving. If a husband or wife is left paralyzed from his or her injuries, the spouse must take over aspects of hygienic care, and would lose the ability to have sexual intercourse and might perhaps become incontinent, such as in this case.
Because our society values the family unit and seeks to encourage and enhance it, we make laws and policies that help families. Loss of consortium is a way to do that. When a member of a family is badly hurt, the trauma doesn’t just affect the injured person. The family is disrupted. A spouse has a new role thrust upon him or her, which is that of caretaker. Stress and frustration can take their toll on all involved. Quite simply, other family members must step up to take on more responsibilities to compensate for their loved one’s decreased ability to be independent, and those responsibilities are worthy of financial compensation.
Also, it should be noted, because same sex marriage has been recognized in Washington as well as many other states by their own initiative, these rights used to not be given to a same sex couple even if they were “married” in every other meaning of the word. Now, the law gives married same sex couples the same value and right to loss of consortium. Additionally, many different sex couples are in long-term committed relationships but do not legally marry. Our society has changed, and the family unit has by definition evolved. It seems more likely that if this Whatcom County loss of consortium case from 1983 were to be heard today, the outcome would be different, but loss of consortium cases are more easily argued when there is a blood relative like a child or legally-recognized spouse involved.