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Loss of Consortium Claims Barred When Underlying Claim Is Settled, Court Rules – Voris v. Molinaro

By November 23, 2011February 28th, 2018Auto Accidents

As a St. Louis car accident attorney, I sometimes handle cases in which just one half of a couple was injured, but both people make injury claims. This is possible because the law allows the non-injured person in a marriage to make a claim for loss of consortium — broadly, loss of the injured spouse’s services, companionship and more. Of course, such a claim cannot exist without an injury to the spouse, and it generally follows an injury claim of some kind by the spouse, so both are suing the same at-fault parties. That was the case in Voris v. Molinaro, a Connecticut Supreme Court case in which John Voris claimed loss of consortium after an injury to his wife, Joan Voris, by driver Peter Molinaro. The high court ruled that because Joan Voris settled her injury claim, a loss of consortium claim alone by John Voris could not stand.

The Vorises were together when Molinaro hit the passenger side of their vehicle, causing back and spine injuries to both people. The injuries to Joan Voris are more severe and painful, leaving her bedridden at times and unable to function normally. The couple sued Molinaro, each alleging a count for their own injuries and each alleging loss of consortium. Joan Voris settled both of her claims about four and a half years after the accident, and withdrew them from court as is standard in settlements. John Voris also withdrew his injury claim, but left the loss of consortium claim in place. Molinaro moved to strike that last count and the trial court granted it, relying on a 1979 Connecticut Supreme Court case, Hopson v. St. Mary’s Hospital, to conclude that John Voris could not pursue his claim after Joan Voris dismissed hers. John Voris appealed.
Before the Connecticut Supreme Court, Voris argued that loss of consortium is a separate cause of action that should stand on its own. Hopson is dicta and not binding, he argued, and suggested extrajurisdictional cases on which the court could rely. The high court was not impressed. In Hopson, it said, it had reversed a 1911 rule that disallowed any loss of consortium claim at all. The opinion considered but rejected the possibility that allowing loss of consortium would allow double recoveries, expressly saying loss of consortium is barred when the injured spouse’s case has been settled or lost. While this was dicta, the court said, numerous cases since have followed its guidance. It cited “strong policy” reasons for its holding, including the possibility of overlapping damages; the status of loss of consortium as a derivative claim; and the interests of efficiency. Thus, it upheld the trial court’s decision to strike.

I am not aware of any similar decision here in Missouri. But as a Missouri auto accident lawyer, I am aware of a recent Eighth Circuit case that linked the amount of the damages for the loss of consortium claim to those for the underlying claim. In that case, Kingman v. Dillard’s, the wife had been injured by a falling rack in a Dillard’s department store and permanently injured her shoulder. While the injury was not severe, it compromised her ability to care for her quadriplegic husband, who required help bathing, dressing and turning over to avoid bedsores. The Eighth Circuit ultimately found that Missouri law would not allow the husband to claim the money for a full-time caregiver because the wife’s injury award was much smaller. As a southern Illinois car wreck attorney, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Missouri will also not allow loss of consortium claims separated from the spouse’s underlying injury claim.

Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients who are seriously injured or lost a loved one because of another driver’s negligence. If you’d like to tell us your story and discuss your legal options, send us a message through our website.