§15.17 Effect of Injured Plaintiff’s Fault on Recoverability in Loss of Consortium Claimant’s Action

The Case : Tuggle v. Allright Parking Systems, Inc., 922 S.W.2d 105 (Tenn. 1996).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff's husband asserted claim for loss of consortium in slip in fall case.

The Bottom Line:

  • "We deem it necessary to resolve a question of first impression - whether, under comparative fault principles, the recovery of a spouse claiming loss of consortium should be reduced or barred by the fault of the physically injured spouse." 922 S.W.2d at 108.
  • "We begin our analysis with a brief review of the law in this State as it relates to loss of consortium. In Tennessee, 'despite being a separate claim from that of an injured spouse for other damages, loss of consortium is also a derivative claim in that the physical injuries or incapacities of one's spouse give rise to and establish the claim.' Jackson v. Miller, 776 S.W.2d 115, 117 (Tenn. App. 1989); see also Swafford v. City of Chattanooga, 743 S.W.2d 174, 178 (Tenn. App. 1987)."Id.
  • "The clear majority of jurisdictions, however, hold that a loss of consortium award must be reduced, and may be barred, by the comparative fault of the physically injured spouse." Id. at 108-09 (footnote omitted).
  • "According to the majority of jurisdictions, reducing the recovery of a spouse claiming loss of consortium in proportion to the fault of the physically injured spouse is the simplest and easiest way to achieve a just result and insure that a loss resulting from an accident is distributed among those whose negligence caused it. Id." Id. at 109 (citation omitted).
  • "Because we are persuaded that the majority rule is the better reasoned rule and is consistent with prior Tennessee decisions describing a claim for loss of consortium as derivative, and consistent with our purpose in adopting comparative fault which was to achieve fairness, McIntyre v. Balentine, 833 S.W.2d at 58, we conclude that the majority view, which holds that the fault of the physically injured spouse either reduces or bars recovery on the other spouse's loss of consortium claim, should be adopted as the law in this State." Id.

Other Sources of Note : Hunter v. Ura, 163 S.W.3d 686 (Tenn. 2005) (holding that the trial court erred when it granted the widowed-plaintiff eight (8) peremptory challenges because of a loss of consortium claim brought on behalf of minor children; however, error determined to be harmless).

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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