California Court Protects Rights of Uninjured Spouse

ringsWhen a married person is seriously injured, the non-injured spouse often pays a large toll as well. While the couple may still love each other just as much, there is no doubt that the marital relationship has been harmed. In the law, this is what as known as a loss of consortium claim. A recent California appellate court decision reaffirms this important legal right of the uninjured party to sue for loss of consortium.

In the case of Mealy v B-Mobie, Inc., the Mealys had been married for over fifty years. Mrs. Mealy was afflicted with polio in 1952 and was confined to a wheelchair after that. Nevertheless, she was able to drive a car and work outside the home. She and Mr. Mealy had five children together and she worked over thirty years as a counselor for Catholic Social Services. After she retired, she began to lose strength in her arms and her mobility worsened. In order to get in and out of bed, the Mealy’s used a Guldman lift system. In 2008, while using the system, a belt broke causing Mrs. Mealy to fall to the floor and break her hip.

Following the fall, Mrs. Mealy filed a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the lift for her personal injuries. Mr. Mealy joined in the suit claiming a loss of consortium. The evidence at trial showed that after the fall Mrs. Mealy required help with almost every aspect of her daily living. She was unable to groom herself as she could before her injury; she was now incontinent, and she was unable to do other household chores and participate in leisure activities that she could do before. Her husband now became her round the clock caretaker.

At trial Mr. Mealy testified that his relationship with his wife was as strong as ever. In fact he testified he loved his wife more than ever. Incredibly, the defense in this case tried to use this testimony to argue that there were no damages to Mr. Mealy and therefore no basis for a loss of consortium claim. The defendant argued that since the loss of consortium was not complete, but only partial there should be no recovery at all for Mr. Mealy’s loss.

The Second District of the California Appellate court soundly rejected this argument. The court wrote that “consortium” refers to the non-economic aspects of the marriage relation, including conjugal society, comfort, affection, and companionship. It includes sexual relations, moral support and household services. The court noted that moral support is an important part of the claim. In this case, the evidence clearly showed that Mrs. Mealy suffered a serious hip fracture that completely changed her life, and thus impacted her husband as well. The fact that he still loved his wife as much as he did before the injury should not, and did not bar his claim.

As an Alameda lawyer specializing in personal injury and wrongful death claims, I see claims where spouses have suffered life changing injuries such as traumatic brain injury injuries or spinal cord injuries. In these difficult cases, the marriage is often tested. The impact on the relationship is real, and as this California case holds, it is compensable–even if the parties still love each other!!!

Resources:

Mealy v B-Mobile, California Court of Appeal, Second

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