On October 6, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court will officially release a decision that expands loss of consortium claims in that state. Previously, Connecticut refused to allow claims for parental consortium of a minor child. The Court has now reversed course and expanded common law consortium claims to allow derivative actions by a minor child in non–wrongful death claims.
Loss of consortium is a cause of action for damages suffered by certain family members of a person injured or killed by the negligent or intentional wrongful acts of another. In the case of a child, damages are generally related to the parent’s inability to provide parental care, training, love and companionship to the same degree as the parent might have but for the injury.
In Campos v. Coleman, SC 19195, the Connecticut Supreme Court joined the majority of jurisdictions that recognize the right of minor children to bring parental consortium claims. Campos overrules the previous prohibition of such claims by the court in Mendillo v. Board of Education, 246 Conn. 456, 461, 495–96, 717 A.2d 1177 (1998). Under Mendillo, loss of consortium was limited to spouses and did not extend to the parent-child relationship. The Campos decision recognizes claims of parental consortium by minor children. However, the Court placed certain restrictions on the ability to bring suit and right of recovery.
Restrictions of Action
Loss of parental consortium may only be raised by a person who was a minor child of the injured parent on the date that the parent was injured. The Court defined a minor child as a person under the age of 18, who has not been legally emancipated. Damages for loss of parental consortium are limited to the period between the date of the parent’s injury and the date that the child reaches the age of majority or date of the parent’s death. The Court did not place a minimum threshold on the nature or severity of the injury that the parent must suffer for a minor to have a valid claim.
A parent may not recover damages for loss of filial consortium for the parent’s inability to provide parental services to the minor child or receive consortium from a child. Postmortem loss of parental consortium claims or damages arising from the death of a parent continue to be barred.
What to Watch
At common law, the Connecticut courts have consistently limited loss of consortium claims to tort claims not involving death. It is noteworthy that the legislature previously removed a similar bar on postmortem claims in spousal consortium actions. Therefore, a similar legislative scheme may be considered in parental consortium cases in the future.
The Court did not address whether physically or mentally disabled individuals who are dependent on parental care but over the age of 18 may raise a loss of parental consortium claim. The Court seems to have left the matter open for interpretation by the lower courts.
Despite several restrictions, parental consortium claims are anticipated to become commonplace in Connecticut. These claims may be more effective in increasing potential damages against defendants by presenting sympathy evidence to a jury. Minor plaintiffs will likely be seen by a jury as innocent, without the quagmire of complex issues inherent in spousal consortium claims. Potential jurors’ attitudes toward minor plaintiffs will now need to be explored during voir dire. The result may be increased defense costs from more complex litigation and potentially larger verdicts for plaintiffs.
Parental consortium claims are derivative of the injured parent’s cause of action and must be joined with the underlying claim. The parental consortium claim is automatically terminated in the event of settlement or adverse judgment of the injured parent’s action. Furthermore, derivative parental consortium claims are subject to the statute of limitations applicable to the parent’s cause of action.