A loss of consortium claim started as a way to compensate a husband for the loss of his wife and the duties she performed in the home, including sex.Posted: July 2, 2018
In most states, a loss of consortium claim is a derivative claim, meaning that the claim is successful if the original claim, the husband’s claim is successful.
In Maine, a loss of consortium claim may be derivative or independent and is based on a statute.
State: Maine, Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
Plaintiff: Brent D. Hardy et al.
Defendant: David St. Clair d/b/a Wiscasset Raceway
In the majority of states, a loss of consortium claim is a derivative claim, and a release stops those claims as well as the original claim of the injured plaintiff. In Maine, a loss of consortium claim is a separate claim and not stopped when the plaintiff signs a release.
The husband was part of a pit crew for a race car. He signed a release to enter the track and work on the race car he crewed for. During the race, a specific set of seats in the bleachers were reserved for the pit crew. While sitting in the bleachers, a plank on a set of bleachers collapsed, injuring him.
The trial court granted summary judgment on the husband’s claim but allowed the wife’s loss of consortium claim to continue.
Maine’s loss of consortium claims originally only available to a husband when a wife was injured. When the first claims from wives appeared based on husband’s injuries the courts determined it was not their job to make that decision on whether the wife had a claim, that it was the legislature’s responsibility. “However, “under common law, a wife had no cause of action for her loss of consortium occasioned by her husband’s injuries.”
The Maine legislature passed a law giving both husband and wife, when married, loss of consortium claims. The statute stated the claims were available to be brought in the person’s own name or in their spouse’s name.
In most states, a loss of consortium claim is a derivative claim. Meaning the claim is brought with the injured spouse’s claim and is subject to the defenses to the injured spouses claim. Alternatively, the non-injures spouse can only win if the injured spouse wins.
Based on the language of the Maine Statute, the trial court determined the loss of consortium claim of the non-injured spouse could continue. The defendant appealed that decision and this is the Maine Supreme Court’s decision on that issue.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court started by reviewing the release, and Maine release law. As in most states the court started its analysis with:
Courts have traditionally disfavored contractual exclusions of negligence liability and have exercised a heightened degree of judicial scrutiny when interpreting contractual language [that] allegedly exempts a party from liability for his own negligence.”
Under Maine’s law, this means that a release must “expressly spell out with the greatest particularity the intention of the parties contractually to extinguish negligence liability” That means the court must look at the plain language of the agreement and determine the intent of the parties as set forth in the agreement.
Although the release was mainly written to cover injuries received as a member of the pit crew and stock-car racing, the court found that since the seating area where the injury occurred could only be occupied by members of a pit crew, the release covered the injuries the plaintiff suffered when the plank broke. The court stated.
…had Brent not been participating in the race events, he would not have been on the section of bleachers that collapsed because that section was reserved for members of the pit crews and not open to the general public
The plaintiff’s injuries were determined to have risen directly from the racing event. Overall, the court determined the agreement was written to extinguish negligence liability.
Finding the release prevented the claims of the husband, the court then turned to the issue of the loss of consortium claim of the spouse.
Looking at the law of releases, a release only bar’s claims of the person who signed the release. If the wife’s claims are derivative, then her claims would be barred also when the husband signed the release.
States adopting the derivative approach generally conclude that a cause of action for loss of consortium is subject to the same defenses available in the injured spouse’s underlying tort action. States adopting the independent approach generally conclude that a consortium claim is not subject to such defenses.
However, under the statute, the court found that loss of consortium claims in Maine are separate, independent causes of action. The wife’s loss of consortium claim could continue.
So Now What?
In Maine, and the minority of states that follow this line of reasoning, to bar all claims for injuries, a defendant is going to have to get a signature on a release for everyone who might have a claim based upon the injury of the injured person.
That could mean the spouse would have to sign a release, minor children if they are allowed, heirs of the plaintiff if he dies, or anyone else that could bring a claim all would have to release any possible defendant.
Understand if you live in a state where loss of consortium claims is derivative and covered by a release or stand alone and not covered by your release.
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Last Updated April 24, 2018