Part of my job as a Missouri injury attorney is to request fair compensation for “loss of consortium” to spouses, as well as the losses of the person who was directly injured. This can mean any practical loss, like the loss of someone to do yard work, as well as emotional losses. In Kingman v. Dillard’s Inc., the decision focused on a woman’s lost ability to care for her quadriplegic husband. Paula Kingman successfully sued a Dillard’s store in Missouri after a hanging clothes rack fell and permanently injured her shoulder. The injury meant she could no longer be the primary caregiver for her husband, Calvin Kingman, who needs daily help moving to avoid bedsores, bathing, dressing and more. Dillard’s challenged the award of money to Calvin for the loss of his wife’s services.
Paula was shopping when a clothes rack came loose from the wall and fell on her. She reacted in a way that twisted her shoulder, developing pain, a limited range of motion and a popping/catching sensation. Despite pain medication, immobilization, physical therapy and three surgeries, Paula never healed entirely. Three different doctors told her she could no longer lift or move her husband, who weighs 300 pounds, because of the injury. She also had a series of previous injuries, two from car wrecks that did not directly harm her shoulder, and one workplace injury that did harm her shoulder. She continued to be the primary caregiver for Calvin until her Dillard’s accident. After a bench trial on the Dillard’s incident, she was awarded $186,000 for her injuries and Calvin was awarded $1 million for professional care. Dillard’s appealed, objecting to the amount of Paula’s award and the loss of consortium award to Calvin.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Dillard’s argued that Paula should have been awarded less because her shoulder injury was preexisting, but the court disagreed. An expert at trial testified that her previous injury was to shoulder nerves, not to the muscle, as the Dillard’s injury was, and another previous injury had healed. And even if she was predisposed to shoulder injuries, the court found that Dillard’s still had a responsibility to compensate her for aggravating her problems. However, the Eighth also found that Missouri law on loss of consortium claims does not allow awards for lifelong nursing care. It noted that no court in Missouri and most other places had addressed the issue, and declined to expand Missouri law. It also pointed out that loss of consortium awards are not generally larger than awards for the underlying injury. Thus, it upheld the award to Paula but remanded the award to Calvin for the district court to reconsider.
As a St. Louis personal injury lawyer, I would like to see Missouri courts take on this issue. The Eighth was not insensitive about the losses to the Kingmans caused by Paula’s inability to care for Calvin. Indeed, it suggested alternative theories of loss of consortium that might expand the award to Calvin without encompassing professional nursing services. However, it did not want to make new law in Missouri, correctly deferring that job to Missouri courts themselves. Thus, Missouri appellate courts may be able to expand loss of consortium claims for the thankfully rare occasions when the spouse of a very disabled person is injured through someone else’s negligence. It may sound like a small matter of law, but as a southern Illinois spinal injury attorney, I know it matters a lot to couples like the Kingmans.
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