When an individual files a claim for negligence several factors must be proven to succeed against a defendant. These factors state that, in order for negligence to exist, a defendant must owe the plaintiff a duty, breach that duty, be the actual cause of that breach, be the proximate cause of that breach, and the breach must result in actual harm to the plaintiff. Often, however, questions arise in negligence disputes when the cause of a plaintiff’s injury cannot be proven. One of the most controversial of these issues is presumption; whether or not the injury should be assumed to have occurred from the defendant’s breached duty. This was the main issue contended in Jones v. Brookshire Grocery Co.
In this case, Jones suffered from gastrointestinal afflictions after eating chicken strips that contained metal flakes from the defendant’s store. At trial, the court found that although Mr. Jones’s condition did not appear until after his consumption of the contaminated food, it was just as likely that his condition, which usually takes several years to develop, was already present prior to the incident. Therefore, Jones was awarded damages for his anxiety, but nothing for damages related to the gastrointestinal condition. On appeal, Jones contended that Housley, a leading negligence case, should apply in support of his position. Housley states that:
A claimant’s disability is presumed to have resulted from an accident, if before the accident the injured person was in good health, but commencing with the accident the symptoms of the disabling condition appear and continuously manifest themselves afterwards, providing that the medical evidence shows there to be a reasonable possibility of causal connection between the accident and the disabling condition.(Housley, 579 So.2d 973 at 980)
The Court of Appeal, however, found that Housley actually provides support for the argument against Jones. In order for there to be a presumption in favor of the plaintiff, the Housley rule requires there to be a “reasonable possibility of causal connection between the accident and the disabling condition.” Yet, Jones’s condition could have been present for years without any symptoms, and according to one of Jones’s doctors, the condition was unlikely to have developed in the three months between the metal flake consumption and the diagnosis of the condition. Therefore, since Jones failed to provide further evidence establishing that there was a reasonable possibility of causation, the Court of Appeal denied Jones’s plea for damages related to his gastrointestinal affliction.
The second issue that Jones appealed was the denial of loss of consortium damages for his wife. In order to succeed on a loss of consortium claim the plaintiff must prove the spouse’s damages, the defendant’s liability, and the consequential loss of consortium. Loss of consortium is typically defined as a loss of benefits of a family relationship. In addition to overall happiness, loss of consortium may apply if other aspects of the relationship are damaged including love, affection, sexual relations, and the right to support, aid, and assistance. Therefore, if one’s husband is injured or killed because of a defendant’s liability, the wife may be entitled to the husband’s lost future wages as a loss of consortium. In the Jones case, the plaintiff succeeded in showing loss of consortium because Mr. Jones suffered anxiety which was caused by the defendant, and Mrs. Jones had been put through hardship because of that anxiety.
If you have been the victim of an accident caused by another but it is unclear whether or not your injuries are a direct result of the accident, ask yourself whether or not the injury appeared after the accident. If it has, it may be best to consult with a doctor to determine if it is possible that the injury developed before the accident. If pre-accident development is unlikely or impossible, then a court will presume the injury to have resulted from the accident. Likewise, if a family member’s injury has affected your relationship with that person, and another is responsible for that injury, you may be entitled to loss of consortium compensation. Consortium incorporates a broad spectrum and should not be forgotten when making a claim. Remember, avoidable injuries hurt not only the victim, but those closest to him or her.
Negligence claims are often complex, requiring deep legal analysis of the facts and the law. This analysis is best left to a licensed practicing attorney.
If you have been injured in an accident, please contact the Berniard Law Firm as you may be entitled to compensation.