Landmark Utah Supreme Court Ruling Allows Families to Recover for Emotional Loss After Injury to Child

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The Utah Supreme Court recently ruled in the case of a 14-year-old child that his mother and father were eligible to collect damages for loss of filial consortium, damages that are seldom offered across the United States.

“Loss of consortium,” or to put it in layman’s terms, loss of love and affection, damages are typically associated with spousal relationships. However, in some states, the right to recover damages for loss of consortium has been extended to parent-child relationships. These are referred to as “filial consortium damages,” and they are intended to compensate parents for loss of affection, love and companionship resulting from a child’s death or serious injury.

When a child dies due to the wrongful actions of others, most places allow those parents to recover filial consortium damages from the negligent party under wrongful death statutes. However, when the child survives, often parents are not entitled to these damages – even when the injuries are severe. This ruling in Utah changed this policy statewide.

What Happened?

A 14-year-old boy attending Juan Diego Catholic High School in Salt Lake City was working as a crewmember for a theatre production when he his teacher told him to change out the light bulbs on the auditorium ceiling. To reach these lights, a man-lift was required. While the student was changing lights 30 feet up in the air, the teacher instructed other students to push the lift along from light to light. Unfortunately, the lift toppled over in the process, throwing the student to the ground and causing, among other injuries, a severe traumatic brain injury that permanently changed the student’s life.

The family sued for negligence, vicarious liability and loss of filial consortium. The school fiercely resisted, as loss of filial consortium was not seen as a legitimate damage under Utah law at the time. The school did admit fault, but tried to have the loss of filial consortium claim dismissed, citing a previous decision in which the state high court barred a similar claim regarding an adult child.

Because this case involved a minor, the Utah Supreme Court decided that the previous decision was not binding. In the end, the court ruled in favor of the family, meaning that not only will the family be compensated, but that other families will be able to pursue these damages in the future should other tragic, life-altering injuries occur.

Written by AskTheLawyers™ on behalf of John Romano.