Utah Parents Can Sue for Loss of Kid’s Companionship

     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) — The Utah Supreme Court ruled that Beehive State parents can sue for loss of consortium of their injured children under the state’s spousal-consortium law.
     Robert and Christina Benda’s then-14-year-old son, P.B., allegedly suffered a traumatic brain injury from a fall in drama class in October 2012. His parents claimed that a Juan Diego Catholic High School teacher told the freshman to climb into a lift to replace auditorium light bulbs.
     According to a lawsuit they filed two years ago, P.B. was in the lift, 30 feet in the air, when the teacher ordered several students to push the equipment from one light to the next.
     But the lift toppled over and crashed to the floor, causing P.B. to be thrown out of the lift to the ground. He “suffered immediate, serious, and life threatening injuries as a result of that incident,” the lawsuit states.
     The Bendas sued Roman Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City dba Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Skaggs Catholic Center dba Juan Diego Catholic High School in Salt Lake City District Court. They alleged negligence and vicarious liability, and sought damages for loss of “consortium, companionship, services, comfort, society, and attention.”
     School officials admitted fault and accepted responsibility for P.B.’s injuries, according to court records, but moved to dismiss the couple’s loss of filial consortium claim on grounds that Utah did not recognize such a claim.
     The loss of consortium claim was dismissed in December 2014, which prompted an appeal in March 2015.
     On Aug. 25, the Utah Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and ruled Beehive State parents can sue for loss of filial consortium if a child’s injury met the requirements of the state’s spousal-consortium statute.
     Utah Code section 30-2-11 allows the spouse of a tortiously injured person to recover for loss of consortium. Such claims relate to the loss of normal marital relations, including sex.
     “Utah law already recognizes a cause of action for loss of consortium due to tortious injury to one’s spouse, and we see merit in extending the right to recovery for loss of consortium to the relationship between parents and a minor child,” the 9-page ruling states. “Like the relationship between spouses, the relationship between parents and a minor child is a legally recognized relationship involving legal obligations.”
     Justice Dino Himonas continued, “Like the relationship between spouses, it also tends to be a particularly close relationship highly valued in society.”
     The judge said state law already provides a right to recovery for loss of filial consortium in wrongful death cases.
     The court declined to rule whether P.B.’s specific injuries satisfied the spousal consortium statute, and remanded the case back to district court.
     “Just as the legislature saw merit in re-creating the cause of action for loss of spousal consortium, we see merit in extending a cause of action for loss of consortium to parents of a tortiously injured minor child,” Himonas wrote.
     Himonas was joined by Chief Justice Matthew Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee, Justice Christine Durham and Justice John Pearce.
     Juan Diego Catholic High School, a private Catholic school, is located in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper.

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