Can a spouse recover for loss of consortium if he testifies that the marital relationship actually improved after the accident? He can in California.
On May 26, 2011, the California Court of Appeal issued its decision in Mealy v. B-Mobile, Inc. (2011 DJDAR 7497).
Plaintiffs Donald Mealy and Adelaide Mealy were born in 1925 and 1927, respectively. In 1952, Adelaide suffered nearly complete paralysis in both legs and was confined to a wheelchair after battling polio. Nevertheless, she lived an active life, driving a car, working outside the home, and having five children with Donald. Id.
Beginning in 2000, Adelaide used a lift system to transfer her between her bed, the bathroom, and her wheelchair. She fell from the lift in 2006, suffering a broken hip. After a year of recovery, she resumed an independent lifestyle including household chores, cooking, gardening, and travelling. Id.
In 2008, Adelaide fell from the sling of a replacement lift system. Unfortunately, her recovery was not as successful as it was in 2006. Thereafter, Adelaide was unable to perform household services or enjoy leisure activities, and her husband became her fulltime caretaker. Id.
During trial, Donald testified that he spent more time with his wife after the accident. He testified that they love each other even more than they did before the accident. Finally, he testified that the accident did not hurt his relationship with his wife—“Not a bit.” Id. at 7497-7498.
Based on this testimony, defendants moved for entry of judgment. In deciding the issue, the court examined whether partial loss of consortium was a recognized legal theory (discussing Park v. Standard Chem. Way Co. (1976) 60 Cal.App.3d 47, 50-51). Id. at 7498-7499. After a brief discussion, the court ruled that partial loss of consortium was like “being a little bit pregnant.” Finding that plaintiff did not establish complete loss of consortium, judgment was entered in defendants’ favor. Id.
Analysis on Appeal
The Court of Appeal dismissed the Park Court’s statement regarding partial loss of consortium as dicta. The court instead relied on the California Supreme Court’s holding in Rodriguez v. Bethlehem Steel Corp. (1974) 12 Cal.3d 382 which “expressly recognized the right to recover damages for the ‘loss or impairment’ of the plaintiff’s rights of consortium, and we see no basis to conclude that a loss of consortium must be so extensive as to be considered complete in order to be compensable.” Id. at 7499.
As for Donald’s trial testimony that he and his wife loved each other more after the accident, the Court of Appeal concluded that they were understandable comments of a loving husband. “Those supportive comments do not negate the tangible impact of his wife’s injury on Donald Mealy and the inevitable loss of conjugal society, comfort, affection, moral support and other noneconomic elements of the marital relationship resulting from his becoming virtually a full-time caregiver for his wife.” Id. As such, the trial court was overturned and the case was remanded for a limited trial on damages for loss of consortium.
About the author, Richard Crites.