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When Your Spouse is Seriously Injured, You Hurt Too: Understanding “Loss of Consortium” Claims

Posted on - Thursday, September 24, 2015 under FAQ, Personal Injury

Marriage is a partnership. When one party to a marriage is seriously injured, that partnership and the whole life and family that is built around it can be thrown into chaos. The physical pain, suffering, or incapacity the victim feels is accompanied by the emotional, psychological, and practical trauma their spouse is now burdened with.

Having to take care of them, having to pick up the slack and take care of all of the responsibilities that the injured spouse used to handle, losing the closeness and so much that was wonderful and intangible about their lives together before the injury – aren’t these damages as real as that suffered by the victim?

The law in Georgia and in most states says they are, and the law allows the spouses of injury victims to pursue claims for damages against the party responsible for their spouse’s injuries. These are what are called “loss of consortium” claims.

What is “Consortium”?

“Consortium” is a Latin word essentially meaning “sharing a partner.” The loss of consortium under Georgia law involves the loss of “society, companionship, love, affection, aid, services, cooperation, sexual relations, and comfort, such being special rights and duties growing out of marriage covenants.” Smith v. Tri-State Culvert Mfg. Co., 126 GA App. 508, 510 (1972).

As with all other suits seeking compensation from someone who has caused an injury, a plaintiff asserting a loss of consortium has to prove both causation (the disruption of the marriage was due to the injuries caused by the defendant) and damages (the nature and extent of the disruption of the marriage).

Unlike most other personal injury claims, loss of consortium claims

are

known as “derivative” actions. They only exist so long as the injury victim’s claims exist. If the injured party settles or dismisses their claim, any cause of action for loss of consortium also vanishes.

How is Consortium Valued?

How do you place a dollar value on a marriage? What

is

companionship, a sex life, and love worth? Juries have to figure that out in these situations and will take into account a number of factors, including:

  • The stability of the marriage. A couple on the verge of divorce will have a hard time separating the pre-existing damage to their marriage from whatever was caused by the injury.
  • The life expectancies of the spouses. A young couple who are looking ahead at decades of challenges and struggles will receive more compensation than an elderly couple.
  • The nature and extent of the damage to the relationship. It is this factor which can be the key to valuing a consortium claim. If the victim is physically incapacitated by a spinal cord injury, or suffered from a traumatic brain injury which has changed their personality or cognitive abilities, or if they require constant care and attention and will for a long time; these are the kinds of serious disruptions could lead to a significant award for a loss of consortium claim. On the other hand, a spouse’s broken leg which makes them unable to take care of chores and errands for a while is not going to be viewed as that big of a deal.

I understand that serious personal injuries impact whole families, and work with injury victims in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee as well as their loved ones who are dealing with the aftermath of injuries caused by someone else’s carelessness. Please give me a call at (770) 727-5550 or chat live online with a member of our staff today if you have questions about whether an injury could be the basis of a loss of consortium claim. I look forward to assisting you.