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California Civil Jury Instructions 3920: Loss of Consortium

By Joseph Low on December 30, 2023

A man sits in anguish folded up on himself with his head in his hands.

California Civil Jury Instruction 3920 holds significant weight in personal injury law, specifically in cases involving the complex and delicate concept of “loss of consortium.” This legal instruction provides a framework for understanding and addressing the emotional and relational impact on a spouse or family member resulting from the injury of the plaintiff.

Defining Loss of Consortium

Loss of consortium, within the context of personal injury claims, refers to the harm experienced by a spouse or family member due to the injury suffered by the plaintiff. It encompasses the intangible losses that go beyond the physical injuries sustained by the individual directly involved in the accident.

The emotional and relational impact on the spouse or family member can be profound. This may include the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support. Additionally, it may extend to the loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations or the ability to have children.

California Civil Jury Instructions 3920 Explained

California Civil Jury Instructions 3920 serves as a comprehensive guide for both attorneys and jurors in understanding the intricacies of loss of consortium claims. Let’s break down the key components and legal considerations outlined in this instruction.

The instruction recognizes the subjective nature of these damages, emphasizing that no fixed standard exists for determining the amount of compensation. Jurors are encouraged to use their judgment based on the evidence presented and their common sense.

Establishing Loss of Consortium in Personal Injury Cases

The validity of a loss of consortium claim is contingent on several factors. To establish such a claim, the following considerations come into play:

  • Nature of relationship: The closeness and nature of the relationship between the injured party and the claimant are crucial. Spousal relationships typically carry more weight, but domestic partner relationships are also considered.
  • Extent of the injury: The severity of the injury to the plaintiff plays a significant role. A more severe injury may lead to greater emotional and relational consequences for the spouse or domestic partner.
  • Providing evidence: Substantiating a loss of consortium claim requires presenting compelling evidence. This may include medical records documenting the impact on the injured party, expert testimonies regarding emotional distress, and personal accounts detailing the changes in the relationship.

Damages in Loss of Consortium Cases

Compensable damages in loss of consortium cases are primarily non-economic in nature. They aim to address the intangible losses suffered by the claimant, including:

  • Loss of companionship: Compensation for the diminished ability to enjoy the company, society, and emotional support of the injured spouse or family member
  • Emotional distress: Damages for the emotional suffering and mental anguish experienced by the uninjured spouse or family member as a result of the harm inflicted on their loved one
  • Loss of intimacy: Compensation for the impact on the marital relationship, including the loss of sexual relations and intimacy

It’s essential to note that these damages should not include compensation for financial support loss, personal services provided by the claimant, loss of earnings due to caregiving, or the cost of obtaining domestic household services.

Legal Challenges and Precedents

Loss of consortium cases can face common legal challenges. These may include difficulties in quantifying non-economic damages, establishing a clear link between the injury and the emotional impact, or addressing potential arguments raised by the opposing party.

Case law has tested the metes and bounds of loss of consortium damages under California law. Some of California’s legal precedents on the matter include:

  • Legal basis for loss of consortium claims: Rodriguez v. Bethlehem Steel Corp. established that each spouse in California has a cause of action for loss of consortium resulting from a negligent or intentional injury to the other spouse by a third party. Rodriguez v. Bethlehem Steel Corp. (1974) 12 Cal.3d 382, 408.
  • Elements of a loss of consortium claim: There are four essential elements for a loss of consortium claim: valid and lawful marriage, tortious injury to the spouse, loss of consortium suffered by the plaintiff, and the loss being proximately caused by the defendant’s act. Vanhooser v. Superior Court (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 921, 927.
  • Limitations on recovery: No cause of action for loss of consortium if the spouse has no cause of action in tort. Blain v. Doctor’s Co. (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 1048, 1067.
  • Child’s claim for loss of consortium: No cause of action by a child for loss of parental consortium. Borer v. American Airlines, Inc. (1977) 19 Cal.3d 441, 451.

The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV Is Here To Help

If you have suffered intangible losses due to the severe injury or death of your spouse or domestic partner, don’t hesitate to seek the assistance of a compassionate and experienced Long Beach personal injury lawyer. The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV in Long Beach, with our proven track record and commitment to justice, stands ready to provide the guidance and advocacy you need.

We’re standing by to discuss your legal rights and options—call (562) 901-0840 today for a free consultation.

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