A claim for loss of consortium is typically pursued following an injury where a husband or wife can no longer enjoy the companionship and services of his or her injured spouse to the same degree as before the accident. The loss can be permanent or only temporary, and it can result from the physical injury itself or the mental distress caused by the injury. The loss of sexual relations is frequently cited to support the claim, though it is not an essential element; the claim can also extend to other aspects of the spousal relationship such as caring for children, preparing meals, cleaning the house or performing other chores in the home, and sharing in social activities.
Louisiana law clearly defines the elements to be considered in a loss of consortium claim:
1. loss of love and affection;
2. loss of society and companionship;
3. impairment of sexual relations;
4. loss of performance of material services;
5. loss of financial support;
6. loss of aid and assistance; and
7. loss of fidelity.
An example of a court’s analysis of these elements is presented in Campbell v. Webster Parish Police Jury, 828 So. 2d 170 (La. Ct. App. 2d. 2002). In this case, Ms. Virginia Campbell was driving her car on Parish Road 2 in Webster Parish when she encountered an unmarked patch of gravel left in the roadway by workers of the Police Jury. Ms. Campbell lost control of her vehicle and crashed into a ditch, which resulted in abrasions on her knees, arms, neck, and face. Ms. Campbell was taken to the Spring Hill Medical Center and then to her family physician, who determined that her most serious and debilitating injury was to her back.
The Campbells’ suit included a claim for loss of consortium on behalf of Don Campbell, Virginia’s husband. The trial court awarded Mr. Campbell $15,000 in damages on this claim. The Webster Parish Police Jury appealed this award, as well as other awards made by the trial court for Ms. Campbell’s general damages and medical expenses.
The Court of Appeal, in reviewing the trial court’s award of damages for loss of consortium to Mr. Campbell, examined the record which contained evidence of several of the seven elements. The court noted that Ms. Campbell had been to several doctors over the course of the three years since the accident but still complained of pain. One physician testified that Ms. Campbell was “probably 50%” recovered as of the date of trial and, though she might progress “another 20 to 30%,” she would likely require chiropractic treatment indefinitely.
Mr. Campbell described his wife as “positive” and “upbeat” before the accident and reported that she was “very active” and “enjoyed exercising, traveling and gardening.” After the crash, though, Mr. Campbell saw her activity level drop “to zero.” Mr. Campbell testified that his wife was unable to do household chores and that she stopped gardening and cooking. She no longer wanted to talk and experienced frequent crying spells. Although Mr. Campbell felt that his wife’s personality was gradually “coming back” and she was learning to live with her pain, she had not regained her pre-accident personality and activity level.
Mr. Campbell further testified about the impact of his wife’s condition on his home life. He often had to carry groceries for her and help with the vacuuming, both tasks which were performed solely by his wife prior to the accident. Before the accident Mr. Campbell was accustomed to coming home from work to a supper prepared by his wife, but for an extended time after the accident, Ms. Campbell stopped cooking altogether. The Campbell’s weekend trips were significantly reduced due to Ms. Campbell’s back pain, and she no longer participated in shared activities such as bowling and hunting.
In light of this testimony, the court concluded that “the close relationship between Don and Virginia Campbell has been greatly strained as a result of the accident.” Accordingly, the award to Don Campbell of $15,000 for loss of consortium was upheld.
The Campbell case demonstrates that an accident affects not only the victim, but also the family members who have come to rely on enjoying the victim’s company. Fortunately, under Louisiana law, the loss of consortium claim provides a way for spouses to be compensated for their losses when tragedy strikes.