Massachusetts tort law is not only concerned with the protection of an individual directly harmed as a result of another’s negligent conduct, but also with the individual’s marital relationship and the interests of his/her spouse. Massachusetts permits the spouse of a party injured by the carelessness of another to make his/her own separate claim for economic compensation. The claim is based upon the manner in which the injured spouse’s injuries have adversely affected the quality and nature of the marriage. This type of spousal claim is known as “loss of consortium.” For spousal rights in the context of a wrongful death of a husband/wife, see Marianne LeBlanc’s Blog, “Spousal Wrongful Death Claims & Damages in Massachusetts.”
A spouse has the right to enjoy the society and companionship that grows out of the marital relationship. If, as a result of another’s negligence, a spouse suffered or will suffer a loss to this relationship, he/she is entitled to be fairly compensated for the degree of corresponding interference and loss of enjoyment. In certain circumstances, a consortium claim can be substantial, especially where the non-injured spouse becomes the primary caregiver and/or must assume additional familial responsibilities, such as childcare and household management, due to the spouse’s injuries.
Though it is difficult to quantify how an injury diminishes the marital relationship, juries are nonetheless asked to compensate consortium plaintiffs for their loss. Evidence regarding decreased companionship, society, comfort, solace, moral support, sexual relations and/or inability to bear children, and restrictions on social or recreational life, may be presented for the jury’s consideration. The jury is not provided with a mathematical formula to calculate consortium damages. They rely upon their common sense and judgment in determining the degree to which a spouse has and/or will continue to suffer a deprivation of the full enjoyment of the marriage. Consortium damages are therefore as unique as the individual composition of each family and their circumstances. Further, unlike damages awarded to an injured spouse which may be reduced by his/her proportionate degree of fault in causing an accident, consortium damages are not reduced by any comparative fault. When a jury awards damages for loss of consortium, the award is independent of the injured plaintiff’s conduct.