In personal injury cases, some types of damages are obvious. Whether you have suffered broken bones, a spinal cord injury, or even the loss of a limb, there are some injuries that anyone can see — and that are relatively easy to prove.
Other losses are harder to demonstrate but are no less real. These may include emotional distress, pain and suffering — and loss of consortium. These are known as general damages, as they attempt to compensate victims in a personal injury case for harm that isn’t monetary in nature. The victim might not be able to point to a medical bill and state that they have suffered $15,000 in emotional distress, for example, but Pennsylvania law still allows them to recover for certain types of non-monetary damages. A skilled Philadelphia personal injury lawyer can help an injured party estimate general damages based on their experience handling these types of cases.
One type of non-monetary damage that is often confusing is a loss of consortium. This is what a person suffers when their spouse is injured in such a way that he or she can no longer participate in life in the same way that they did before. There are specific rules governing loss of consortium claims in Pennsylvania, which can be complex depending on the situation. Working with an experienced Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, such as the attorneys of Solnick & Associates, can help to ensure that you are able to pursue a loss of consortium claim.
What is Loss of Consortium: An Example
Consider a situation where a woman was seriously injured while driving when her car is hit by a drunk driver. Her husband and two young sons, who were also in the car with her, survived the accident with minor injuries. She is the main breadwinner for their family and will be out of work for at least a year while she recovers. She will also have to find a job that can accommodate her injuries, which include a spinal cord injury that makes it difficult for her to sit or stand for long periods of time.
Before the accident, the woman contributed to household duties, including cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and doing laundry. She also helped to get the boys ready for school and took them to their activities. Now, she cannot do most of these duties, and so the husband has had to hire a nanny to help with their sons and to help around the house.
In addition, the woman’s injuries have impacted her relationship with her husband. Prior to the accident, they enjoyed an active social life, were intimate, and supported each other emotionally. Now, the husband feels more like a nurse or caretaker than a partner, and they cannot be intimate. He is stressed and overwhelmed by the prospect of taking care of her, the kids, and the house, in addition to working full-time.
While this might seem extreme, this is a fairly typical example of a loss of consortium claim. When one spouse is injured, it can place a burden on the uninjured spouse, and significantly change the nature of their relationship. It can also create new family dynamics. In a Philadelphia personal injury case, loss of consortium is an important aspect to consider.
Recovering for Loss of Consortium
To prove loss of consortium, the uninjured spouse has to demonstrate that he or she lost certain aspects of the relationship as a result of the accident. A court will consider a number of factors in evaluating a loss of consortium claim, such as the strength of the marriage prior to the accident, whether the couple was intimate prior to the accident, the division of labor between the spouses, and the life expectancy of the spouses.
A Philadelphia personal injury lawyer can introduce evidence that your relationship was strong and healthy before your spouse was hurt by providing testimony from your spouse, or from family and friends. They can talk about your relationship prior to the accident and how it has changed since your spouse’s injury.
Under Pennsylvania law, there is a two-year statute of limitations for loss of consortium claims. This gives you two years to file a claim before it is barred by operation of law.
Limits on Loss of Consortium Claims
There is one important factor that should be considered when working with a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer on a case involving a loss of consortium claim. In Pennsylvania, loss of consortium is not considered a primary claim, but a derivative claim. In other words, you cannot bring a loss of consortium claim without your spouse first bringing a personal injury claim. Because you were not directly injured, your claim arises from your relationship with your spouse, and the benefits you lost as a result of the accident. As a result, your claim is subject to the same limits as the insurance policy that your spouse will make a claim on for his or her case.
For example, in the situation described above, assume the drunk driver had a $500,000 policy limit, and the woman’s injuries cost $400,000 to treat. The maximum amount that the husband could claim for loss of consortium is $100,000because the policy limit is $500,000.
However, the insurance company may offer less to settle the case. Under Pennsylvania law, if the insurance company offers a settlement to the injured spouse, the agreement must specifically state that it does not include loss of consortium claims. Otherwise, the uninjured spouse will lose his or her right to sue.
Working with a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer
While a loss of consortium settlement may not make an uninjured spouse whole again, it can help to reduce the strain of getting your life back on track after a traumatic accident causes a serious injury to your spouse. Solnick & Associates understands how difficult it can be to handle the aftermath of a personal injury case. We will work with you to help you through the process, and stand by you each step of the way. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation with a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer.