I was interested to see a recent Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case that took up a case I’ve seen before in my blogging here as a St. Louis premises liability lawyer. The case is Kingman v. Dillard’s, and it has to do with an injury from a falling clothing rack in the Dillard’s department store. Paula Kingman’s shoulder injury restricts the amount of weight she can lift with her right shoulder to five to ten pounds. This is especially inconvenient for Kingman because her husband, Calvin Kingman, is a quadriplegic (as a result of a car accident) weighing 250-300 pounds, and relies on her for help with daily life. The district court awarded extensive loss of consortium damages to Calvin, but the Eighth Circuit sent the case back and the trial court reduced the damages by 75%. On its second hearing of the case, the Eighth upheld the reduced award.
Paula Kingman was shopping in western Missouri when the clothing rack came loose from the wall and fell on her right shoulder, causing permanent injuries affecting her ability to care for her husband. After a bench trial, she was awarded $186,000 and Calvin was awarded $1 million for loss of consortium. The money was intended to cover the cost of professional care for Calvin until Paula was 62, after which time the court reasoned she would have needed help anyway. During the case’s prior trip to the Eighth Circuit, in 2011, the appeals court vacated Calvin’s award and sent it back for consideration of whether loss of consortium in Missouri encompasses professional nursing care, and whether the husband’s award could reasonably be so much larger than the award to the primary injured party. The district court reduced Calvin’s award to $250,000, and the Kingmans appealed, as did Dillard’s.
On appeal, the parties disputed two issues. One is whether “heavy lifting and adjustment” by Paula should be part of loss of consortium. If it is, the parties further disputed whether the award amount is appropriate. The Eighth Circuit first ruled that heavy lifting and adjustment can appropriately be part of loss of consortium. Loss of consortium in Missouri means loss of services that the injured spouse performed for the other spouse, plus new services that the uninjured spouse must perform. The Eighth didn’t believe that lifting and adjustment should be per se excluded from consortium; a layperson can do them and Paula in fact was doing it before her injury. Missouri caselaw establishes that the nature and character of Paula’s services are covered. It then noted that Missouri case law has permitted larger consortium awards to invalid spouses than the underlying injury award. And in this case, it concluded, the $250,000 award was supported by the evidence.
I’m sorry that this family has suffered so many serious injuries, and I’m especially sorry that the district court didn’t see fit to award more damages, given their situation. But as a Missouri personal injury attorney, I’m pleased that the Eighth Circuit recognized that sometimes, the facts support a consortium award that’s larger than the underlying injury award. Loss of consortium laws don’t necessarily imagine the kind of caretaking that Paula Kingman did before her accident because that kind of caretaking is highly unusual. Our society doesn’t provide a lot for people in the Kingmans’ situation, so injury awards are one of the few ways they can get the money they need for proper care. As a southern Illinois injury lawyer, I think it’s appropriate to award higher damages for higher needs.
If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries in an accident in a public place, and you believe it was caused by someone else’s negligence, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free consultation, send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
Similar blog posts:
Eighth Circuit Sends Jury Award Back in Case of Injury at Work – Kingman v. Dillard’s Inc.
Loss of Consortium Claims Barred When Underlying Claim Is Settled, Court Rules – Voris v. Molinaro
High Court Finds Worker May Sue Company Related to Her Employer After Injury – Howsden v. Roper’s Real Estate Co.