How Much is Your Marriage Worth?

This post was authored by Michael Sanders and posted to The Eye Opener on June 10th, 2011.

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When you’re injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, it’s easy to see why you have a legal claim. You are entitled to recover for the injuries that you suffered, including economic damages (lost wages, medical bills, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). However, if you’re married, there is another category of damages that you may be able to recover – damage to your marriage. It’s called Loss of Consortium and is an important element of damages in the right circumstances. It is a legal recognition that the marital relationship itself – separate and apart from the injury to the individual – is a protected interest that is deserving of compensation if it has been harmed by the negligence of another person.

Loss of consortium has an interesting history. Under Common Law (which roughly translates to “the olden days” in this circumstance) a woman had no right to sue for loss of consortium. It was only the man who had the right. That was because the woman was essentially seen as the man’s property. If she was injured and unable to provide her usual domestic or bedroom duties as a result of someone else’s negligence, the man could recover for the loss of such services. He had basically lost some of the value of his property so he was entitled to compensation. Eventually, the courts (most courts, at least) recognized the unfairness of such a one-sided system and ruled that women could also make such a claim if their husband suffered an injury. However, there are still some states (Virginia, for example) that do not recognize loss of consortium at all, no matter who tries to bring it.

Back to the present day. A loss of consortium claim arises when one spouse suffers a serious injury that impairs the marital relationship. An easy example is if a husband suffers a traumatic brain injury as a result of a doctor’s negligence. In that circumstance, the man would be able to file a claim for his own damages, of course, but he and his wife could also allege loss of consortium because the brain injury impacts the marriage. The couple will now find it more difficult to do the things they use to do together as man and wife – going out together, caring for their children, taking vacations, intimacy, and the day-to-day marital difficulties that arise because the husband now has a brain injury. In Maryland, a jury can award monetary damages for the couples’ loss of companionship, affection, assistance and yes, sexual relations. It is notoriously difficult to put a dollar figure on such injuries, but the law recognizes the right of a husband and wife to recover financially if their marriage has been damaged. How much money to award for such injury is for the jury to decide. Like other damages, it is always the plaintiffs’ burden to prove that the marriage has been injured, which is usually done through the testimony of the husband and wife.

Speaking of intimacy, some pundits say that loss of consortium is just a code-word for damage to the couples’ sex life. This is not entirely true as the marital relationship entails far more than just sex, but these pundits have a point. A loss of consortium claim usually does include an allegation that the couples’ sex life has been impacted. If you are bringing a lawsuit, you have to understand that when you allege loss of consortium, you are opening up the door on the most intimate parts of your life. Defense attorneys will often ask highly personal questions – how often did you have sex before the injury, how often do you have sex now, how exactly does the injury make sex more difficult, have either of you ever strayed from the marriage, etc. Some couples are understandably reluctant to discuss such things. Thankfully, most defense attorneys are just as uncomfortable asking these questions as the plaintiffs are answering them, so the questions tend to be over with relatively quickly. Be aware, though, that if you do file a loss of consortium claim, your sex life may become an issue in open court.

In the District of Columbia, a loss of consortium claim is for similar damages, but with a slight difference. While in Maryland the claim belongs to both the husband and the wife and is brought by them jointly, in the District of Columbia the claim belongs solely to the non-injured spouse. Any money awarded by the jury for loss of consortium goes to the non-injured spouse rather than to the couple jointly.

Lastly, Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages applies to claims for loss of consortium. There is no separate cap for this claim. In other words, there is a single cap that applies to all allegations of injuries, whether it’s an injury to the individual or an injury to the marriage.  The Maryland Legislature does not allow a couple to receive more money for injury to the marriage above and beyond the cap, even if a jury decides that that money should be given. Just another example of how Maryland’s cap punishes plaintiffs.

Have you ever suffered an injury that impacted your marriage? Did you file a loss of consortium claim? What was the result?

Related Nash and Associates Links

Maryland’s alleged healthcare “crisis”

Insurance and Traumatic Brain Injury

Acquired Brain Injuries

 

 

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2 Responses to “How Much is Your Marriage Worth?”

  1. WJNo Gravatar says:

    Very interesting and “eye opening”….something most people do not think about unless they are dealing with such issues. My marriage is priceless to me as well as my children and extended family. How do you calculate the value of a marriage in these cases???? great article! Will definitely be looking for more…

  2. Mike SandersNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the comment, WJ. You’re right that most people don’t know that you can recover for damage to your marriage. Most of my clients are surprised to learn about it.

    In terms of how you calculate the value of marriage, there is no formula. It is totally up to the jury to determine an amount that they believe fairly compensates the couple (or the non-injured spouse in D.C.). Obviously, the more serious the injury and the more impact on the marriage, the higher the amount will be, but there is no predicting what a jury may do.

    Even if a jury does award a substantial amount for loss of consortium, the cap still applies. If the total amount awarded for non-economic injuries exceeds the cap, the judge is required by law to reduce the award to the amount of the cap.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    Mike

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