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In Tennessee Can a Loss of Consortium Claim be Brought by an Individual Who is Not Legally Married to the Injured Person?

Posted on Jan 13 2015 9:31AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A question recently came up in my practice concerning whether a loss of consortium claim could be brought by a fiancée, boyfriend or girlfriend of an individual who was injured in Tennessee.  The simple answer to this question is that it appears a loss of consortium claim is not available in Tennessee to unmarried individuals.  However, the case law is not quite definitive as it should be, but the statute provides definitive support for this conclusion.

 

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Becker v. Judd and Walmart Transportation, LLC, 646 F.Supp.2nd 923 (M.D. Tenn. 2009) discussed this issue.  This Court found that under Tennessee law in order for a loss of consortium claim to exist, the plaintiffs must be legally married.  The court stated as follows:

 

While there is not a wealth of Tennessee law on this topic, the limited statutory and case law available indicates that the Beckers must be married in order to advance their claim for loss of consortium. For instance, the defendants cite two cases in which the Tennessee Court of Appeals noted, without objection, that the trial court had dismissed a loss of consortium claim because the couple asserting the claim was not married at the relevant time.

 

One of the two Tennessee cited cases was Littlejohn v. Board of Public Utilities of Paris, 2002 WL 54404 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002).  The court states that this Littlejohn case is a “failed loss of consortium claim advanced by boyfriend and girlfriend”.  However, when you look at the actual Tennessee Court of Appeals’ decision, they do not address this actual issue at all.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals case simply states that the Trial Court dismissed the case because the individual seeking loss of consortium was not married to the injured party.  The Court of Appeals did not actually decide or substantively discuss this issue. 

 

The second Tennessee case cited in Becker is Eisenhardt v. Ramsey, 1995 WL 358062 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995).  This case is cited by the District Court as being a “failed loss of consortium claim advanced by a couple that was not married at the time of the accident at issue”.  However, once again, when the actual Eisenhardt opinion is reviewed, the Tennessee Court of Appeals does not actually address this issue.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals simply references the fact that the Trial Court denied the loss of consortium claim because “they were not married at the time of the accident.”  It does not appear that this issue was appealed and it was never actually decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. 

 

The strongest basis in the Becker decision that actually supports the conclusion the court reached (that a non-married individual cannot seek a loss of consortium claim in Tennessee) is the plain language of the actual statute found in T.C.A. § 25-1-106.  This statute provides as follows: 

 

There shall exist in cases where such damages are proved by a spouse, a right to recover for loss of consortium.

 

This statute provides a clear right to recover loss of consortium damages only when “such damages are proved by a spouse”.  There is no definition of the term “spouse” in the statute, however, spouse is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “one’s husband or wife”.  This term is not ambiguous.  It does not include a fiancé, boyfriend or girlfriend.

 

As a result, there really is no definitive Tennessee appellate decision on this issue that I can find.  However, it is safe to say that an individual who is not married at the time of the accident should not be able to receive damages under a loss of consortium theory in Tennessee based on the statute.  Maybe someday we will have a definitive Tennessee Court of Appeals or Tennessee Supreme Court decision that actually addresses this issue directly.  However, I think that is largely unnecessary based on the plain language in the actual statute.  

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Damages, Miscellaneous
Comments
Ken Mansfield  -  1/14/2015 4:02:09 PM
Jason,

I enjoyed reading your article. I see your point about the applicable underlying law in Tennessee referring to "spouse" in order to assert a consortium claim. What is the state of the law in states that recognize civil unions regarding loss of consortium claims?

Ken Mansfield  -  1/14/2015 4:02:02 PM
Jason,

I enjoyed reading your article. I see your point about the applicable underlying law in Tennessee referring to "spouse" in order to assert a consortium claim. What is the state of the law in states that recognize civil unions regarding loss of consortium claims?

Ken Mansfield  -  1/14/2015 4:01:21 PM
Jason,

I enjoyed reading your article. I see your point about the applicable underlying law in Tennessee referring to "spouse" in order to assert a consortium claim. What is the state of the law in states that recognize civil unions regarding loss of consortium claims?

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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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