Each year, hundreds of workers are seriously injured in work accidents in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In some cases, an injured worker may sustain an amputation injury. In other, non-fatal cases, a worker may become paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury. When these kinds of catastrophic injuries occur, spouses of injured workers are often left picking up the pieces. In this article, our PA & NJ work injury lawyers address the legal rights of spouses in work injury lawsuits.
Loss of Consortium Claims – Legal Rights to Compensation for the Spouse of an Injured Worker
Under the personal injury laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, spouses have a legal right to compensation. It is known as a “loss of consortium” claim in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Loss of consortium means the damage to the marital relationship, i.e., the loss of companionship and comfort. This type of claim is a piggy-back claim of the work injury claims in the lawsuit. If the primary claims of the work accident lawsuit are not successful, the loss of consortium claim will fail.
Pennsylvania & New Jersey Law – Loss of Consortium Claims
Under PA and NJ law, marriage is viewed as an entitlement of services from one spouse to the other. In other words, a husband or wife is entitled to services of the other with respect to household duties, companionship, etc. When one spouse becomes injured in a work accident, the other spouse may lose the benefit of those services, or may suffer changes to the quality of those benefits. Damages often include out of pocket expenses for hiring household help, as well as non-economic damages for the negative impact to the relationship caused by the at-fault party’s negligent conduct.
Example – Loss of Consortium for Spouse of Worker Injured at a Construction Site
A Pennsylvania worker is injured while performing work on a construction site in New Jersey. He is severely injured when a scaffold collapses overhead due to the negligence of the scaffold rental company which was hired to construct it.
The worker breaks several vertebrae in his spine and is immediately paralyzed. Fortunately, the paralysis is not permanent. It takes over a year for the worker to regain his ability to walk and perform other activities of daily living such as using the bathroom. Despite healing from the fractured spine, he still suffers long-term symptoms. He will never be able to exercise or lift over 25 pounds. Because of the extent of the injuries and the effects on his home and work life, he suffers from severe depression and anxiety.
The worker’s wife, who was the stay-at-home-parent for the couple’s three young children, has to take a part time job to help with the financial losses. In addition, she has to assume 100% of the household duties including cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. They are forced to hire help for lawn care and other maintenance, all things the husband did prior to the accident.
Because of the severity of the injuries, the relationship between the husband and wife is impacted in a significant way. The wife loses the services the husband performed prior to the accident, and their relationship suffers due to the loss of companionship and comfort caused by the husband’s physical and emotional injuries. Therefore, she is entitled to make a claim against the third party, scaffold rental company. If the scaffold company is found negligent, she would receive compensation.
This example is an extreme one. In less serious work accident cases where the injuries aren’t so severe, loss of consortium claims can still be successful. The key is proving the changes in the relationship.
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