by Michael Rose
Accident victims are the obvious parties involved in personal injury lawsuits. In pursuing a personal injury action, these victims are seeking justice for their injuries by holding those at fault accountable. However, injured persons are not always the only victims in accidents, and yet too often non-injured parties’ rights are overlooked, which can lead to the involuntary and irreversible waiver of their rights, altogether.
The impact an accident can have on a household can be as devastating as it is debilitating. As time waits for no one, the responsibility of keeping a family’s life afloat often falls upon the spouse of the accident victim. The emotional, financial, and situational struggles that come with such a hefty responsibility can be just as crippling as their partner’s physical injury, itself. The culpable party should therefore be held accountable for these resulting damages also.
When a spouse is injured, their partner has a legal claim for damages known as “loss of services” or “loss of consortium.” The value of that claim is based on the activities the couple enjoyed prior to the subject incident that they can no longer engage in as well as those household activities the partner performed that they can no longer do. Of equal or greater importance is the value of the non-injured spouse as a witness.
When assessing the value of a claim, those who defend the case or the insurance companies that settle the claim assess the credibility and jury appeal of the plaintiffs (the people bringing the claim). A credible, well-liked plaintiff strikes fear in the defense because jury appeal can lead to a large jury verdict. A married couple with a great relationship that has been affected due to negligence can incite sympathy in a jury, resulting in a great award for damages. For this reason, a spouse who is a sympathetic witness can add significant value to a personal injury claim.
It is crucial a spouse asserts their claim for loss of services before the personal injury action concludes or they will almost always be precluded from seeking such recovery at a later time. This is because once monetary damages are established, there can be no derivative claims made to change this amount. Personal injury attorneys should assert the loss of services claim at the same time they are bringing a negligence claim – at the beginning of the lawsuit. If the attorney does not do so, or fails to explain the viability of such a claim in a personal injury lawsuit, be prudent and get a second opinion from another law firm.
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