Key Decisions

July 2012 – Damages For Loss Of Consortium Need Not Have Been Married

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | August 8, 2012)

A Spouse Seeking Damages For Loss Of Consortium Need Not Have Been Married At The Time Of The Injury Producing Event, Just At The Time Of Its Manifestation

Vanhooser v. Superior Court
(Cal. Ct. of App., 2d Dist.), filed June 1, 2012 

KEY FACTS

Frederick Kenney was exposed to asbestos in the 1960’s and 1970’s during his service in the United States Navy, and until 1990 as an automobile mechanic working with asbestos-containing automobile parts. Hennessy Industries manufactured brake grinding machines. These machines caused asbestos particles to be released into the atmosphere where those working in the vicinity inhaled them. The inhalation of these asbestos particles may have led to mesothelioma.

Kenny’s last encounter with Hennessy’s products was sometime between 1988 and August 1990.

Kenny and Sherrell Vanhooser were married on December 31, 1991 or 1992.

Kenny first exhibited symptoms of mesothelioma in late 2010, almost 20 years after his last exposure to particles that may have been produced by Hennessy’s machines. Kenny was diagnosed with the disease in June 2011.

Kenny sued numerous companies, including Hennessy, seeking damages for negligence and strict products liability. Vanhooser included a cause of action for loss of consortium.

Hennessy moved for summary judgment on Vanhooser’s cause of action. It argued that because Vanhooser did not marry Kenny until after the alleged injury-causing event, namely his exposure to asbestos, she had no viable cause of action for loss of consortium.

The trial court granted Hennessy’s motion.

HOLDING & REASONING

The Court of Appeal reversed.

A person who suffers a loss of consortium as the result of a negligent or intentional injury to his or her spouse is entitled to recover damages from the tortfeasor.

A loss of consortium cause of action has four elements: “(1) a valid and lawful marriage between the plaintiff and the person injured at the time of the injury; (2) a tortious injury to the plaintiff’s spouse; (3) loss of consortium suffered by the plaintiff; and (4) the loss was proximately caused by the defendant’s act.”

The court held that the first element of a cause of action for loss of consortium is satisfied if the plaintiff’s marriage to the injured spouse predates discovery of symptoms, or diagnosis, of an asbestos-related disease. It noted that “[t]his is so even if the marriage postdates the spouse’s exposure to the asbestos that ultimately results in the injury.”

ANALYSIS

The court’s analysis and conclusions are largely consistent with a wide variety of cases involving latent injuries or damages.