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Insurance Coverage For Loss Of Consortium Claims

It is not unusual for an uninjured party to claim he or she is entitled to his or her own liability limit, separate and apart from the liability limit provided to an injured party, under either a tortfeasor's automobile liability policy or his or her own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Until recently, Alabama courts provided little clear guidance on the issue. However, the issue was recently resolved by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals in State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Brown.

 

On December 9, 2005, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals published its decision in the Brown matter. In the case, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals was asked to decide whether an uninjured spouse's loss of consortium claim was a "bodily injury" entitling him to a liability limit separate from that of his injured wife. The State Farm policy in question provided for $50,000 in coverage per injury and $100,000 in coverage per accident. The policy's "Limits of Liability" section further provided "under 'each person' is the amount of coverage for all damages due to bodily injury to one person. 'Bodily injury to one person' includes all injury and damages to others resulting from this bodily injury." On appeal, State Farm argued the uninjured spouse's loss of consortium claim was subject to the "each person" limitation applied to his wife's claim and alternatively, the uninjured spouse argued he was entitled to his own limitation because his loss of consortium was a bodily injury in and of itself.

 

The injured spouse was paid the $50,000 policy limit on her claim and the uninjured spouse argued he was entitled to an additional $50,000 on his loss of consortium claim. The trial court agreed and eventually, a State Farm appeal was handled by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

 

In its analysis, the court devoted particular attention to the definition of "bodily injury" in State Farm's policy. It defined a "bodily injury" as "bodily injury to a person and sickness, disease or death which results from it." The Court was careful to point out the policy did not include "loss of consortium" or "loss of services" in its definition of a "bodily injury." Since the policy did not define a claim for loss of consortium as a "bodily injury," the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals determined the uninjured spouse was not entitled to a separate limit of liability on his loss of consortium claim. It determined his claim arose out of the injury to his spouse and his loss of consortium claim was not a separate "bodily injury."

 

In short, whether a claim for loss of consortium and/or loss of services entitles an individual to his or her own limit of liability depends upon whether those types of claims are included in a policy's "bodily injury" definition or not. If not, the Brown decision stands as clear guidance individuals making those claims will not be entitled to coverage over and above that provided to the injured party.

 

Finally, in a footnote in its decision, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals indicated its analysis on the issue applies to claims for liability coverage on a tortfeasor's policy and for uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits. Now, when faced with a loss of consortium claim, determining whether a claimant is entitled to a separate limit of liability appears to be as simple as looking at your policy's "bodily injury" definition.


Contributing Author:

Christopher J. Zulanas
Christopher J. Zulanas, Shareholder
Email Address czulanas@friedman-lawyers.com
Direct Line 205-278-7050
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