17th Dec 2018

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In general

A party-spouse to a personal injury action may claim that he or she has been harmed by the injury to his or her spouse. Part of the damages that a jury must decide in such a case is how much money will reasonably compensate the plaintiff for loss of the companionship or services of the plaintiff’s spouse. These damages include:

1. the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society and moral support; and
2. the loss of enjoyment of sexual relations [or the ability to have children]. See CACI 3920 [Loss of consortium (non-economic damage)].

An important aspect of consortium is the moral support each spouse gives the other through the triumph and despair of life. A severely disabled spouse may well need all the emotional strength of the other just to survive the shock of injury, making the agonizing adjustment to the new drastically restricted world, and preserve such person’s mental health through the long years of frustration ahead. [Rodriquez v. Bethlehem Steel (1974) 12 Cal. 3d 382, 405-406]

Under the concept of pain and suffering, a plaintiff may recover not only for physical pain but for fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation, indignity, embarrassment, apprehension, terror or ordeal. Such items refer to subjective states representing a detriment which can be translated into monetary loss. [Rodriquez v. Bethlehem Steel (1974) 12 Cal. 3d 382, 401-402]

Coverage for consortium under a third party liability policy of another

All liability policies contain limits of coverage. The limits may be stated in terms of “per person” [§ P33 PER PERSON/PER OCCURRENCE] or “per occurrence” [§ P32.01 PER OCCURRENCE]. Liability policies extend coverage for loss of consortium. See Jones v. IDS Property Cas. (2018) 27 Cal. App. 5th 625.

   Uninsured motorist limits

In California, each spouse has a cause of action for loss of consortium caused by a negligent or intentional injury to the other spouse by a third party. The question of whether loss of consortium is governed by the “per person limit” or a “per accident (occurrence) limit” has arisen with regards to uninsured motor vehicle damages. Where the UM provision contains a limit of $15,000 “per person” and $30,000 “per accident” then the UM provision contains a provision that “… bodily injury … shall be deemed to include all injury … loss of consortium”, a loss of consortium claim falls under the “per person” limit of $15,000. [United Services v. Werner (1976) 64 Cal. App. 3d 957, 135 Cal. Rptr. 34; Mercury Ins. v. Ayala (2004) 116 Cal. App. 4th 1198 (following United Services v. Werner, supra)] See § U18 UNINSURED MOTOR VEHICLE [§ U18:9 Loss of consortium; per person limitation].

Automobile liability policy

When a wife sues for loss of consortium after her husband is seriously injured in an automobile accident that is the third party defendant’s fault, her claim is subject to the “per person” limit of the defendant’s insurance policy. The language in that auto policy makes it clear that damages for bodily injury include loss of consortium. [Jones v. IDS Property Cas. (2018) 27 Cal. App. 5th 625] See § B15 BODILY INJURY [§ B15:1 Bodily injury as covered under a liability policy].

References in bold are to Mr. Cornblum’s text CALIFORNIA INSURANCE LAW DICTIONARY AND DESK REFERENCE, 2018 Edition, published by ThomsonReuters (1-800-344-5008 to order 3-Volume text).

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