Connecticut Supreme Court recognizes a new cause of action for children based on loss of a parent’s consortium

2015-09-29 | Joseph M. Busher
jmbusher@jacksonokeefe.com

Category: Personal Injury & Wrongful Death

Joseph M. Busher

In a ruling to be officially released on October 6, 2015, the CT Supreme Court has overruled a 1998 decision and now recognizes a claim for parental consortium, which is a claim by a child based on the loss of affection, companionship and services suffered as a result of a parent’s injury.  There are some important limitations: (1) damages are only for injuries sustained prior to death; post-mortem loss of parental consortium is not allowed; and (2) damages may be claimed only by a person who was a minor on the date that the parent was injured; and (3) damages may be awarded only for the period between the date of the parent’s injury and the date that the child legally becomes an adult.  The Court also stated that “loss of parental consortium claims must be joined with the parent’s negligence claim whenever possible, and the jury must be instructed that only the child raising the claim can recover the pecuniary value of the parent’s services.”

The Court left open the question of whether mentally or physically disabled children over 18 years of age could maintain a claim for damages despite their age.

The Court also left open the status of other relationships, stating: “We need not decide whether a stepchild who has not been legally adopted by the injured stepparent should be permitted to bring a claim for loss of consortium. We recognize, however, that, in modern society, many children have parental-type relationships with adults who are neither their biological parents nor their adoptive parents. We further recognize that children who are deprived of such relationships are likely to suffer harm no less severe than the harm suffered by biological and adoptive children in similar circumstances. As we indicated, because the question of whether such children may bring a loss of consortium claim is not presented by this appeal, we leave it for another day.”

The Court also declined to add a limitation “that damages are recoverable only when the parent has suffered a serious, permanent and disabling mental or physical injury that is so overwhelming and severe that it causes the parent-child relationship to be destroyed or to be nearly destroyed.”

In its prior ruling on the same subject, Mendillo v. Bd. of Educ. of Town of East Haddam, 246 Conn. 456 (1998), the Court held that claims for parental consortium were not to be recognized in the State of Connecticut.  In other words, children were not permitted to sue tortfeasors for the loss of their parent’s companionship and affection. Id. at 485.  In 1998, the Court stated that “[t]he formal marriage relation forms the necessary touchstone to determine the strength of commitment between the two individuals which gives rise to the existence of consortium between them in the first instance.” Id. at 494. The Court added that “the constellation of companionship, dependence, reliance, affection, sharing and aid . . . are legally recognizable, protected rights arising out of the civil contract of marriage.” Id.

In the 2015 case, Campos v. Coleman, SC 19195, the Supreme Court reviews the same policy criteria analyzed in the 1998 decision, but reaches a different result.  In the case before it, the father of three minors died three days after being struck by a car while riding a bicycle.  The trial court struck claims by the minors for consortium.  The jury awarded $2,948,000 for the wrongful death claim and $1 million for spousal loss of consortium.  Those awards were then reduced by 42% based on the plaintiff’s decedent’s contributory negligence.  In reversing the dismissal of the parental loss of consortium claims, the Court now states that it agrees “that the unique emotional attachment between parents and children, the importance of ensuring the continuity of the critically important services that parents provide to their children, society’s interest in the continued development of children as contributing members of society, and the public policies in favor of compensating innocent parties and deterring wrongdoing provide compelling reasons to recognize such a cause of action.”  The ruling was 4-3, with a written dissent.

The Court ruling in Campos v. Coleman, SC 19195, may have a significant impact in Connecticut tort cases, although there are limitations as discussed above.  At a minimum, there will be more parties and more issues to address at depositions. The purpose of the ruling is to allow compensation for an area the Court believed was worthy of compensation and was not adequately addressed under existing law.

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