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Family Members’ Claims for Loss of Consortium Survive Death of Injured Party in Arizona

Author: Amy Chambers

February 3, 2020 10:00am

Bradford Martin, et al. v. Victor K. Staheli, M.D., et al., No. S0900CV201600214, Dec. 19, 2019.

Background

Plaintiffs, a husband and wife, filed a medical malpractice claim against the husband’s medical providers arising from a misdiagnosed spinal injury.  The wife pled claims for familial loss-of-consortium and economic damages.  After the case was filed, the husband suddenly died of cancer, from causes unrelated to the injuries alleged in the complaint.

Following the husband’s death, the superior court granted the medical providers’ motion to dismiss the entire complaint.  The motion to dismiss focused on the wife’s claims, arguing any derivative claims from the medical malpractice did not survive the husband’s death.  The superior court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, holding the “survival statute”[1] extinguished claims for loss of consortium upon the husband’s death.  The wife appealed.

Holding and Reasoning

The Court of Appeals, Division One reversed, holding the death of an injured family member does not extinguish the loss-of-consortium claim of a surviving family member.  The common law rule in Arizona is that a personal cause of action in tort held by an injured party does not survive in favor of the personal representative after the injured party dies.  However, as the Court of Appeals explained, under Arizona’s “survival statute,” certain causes of action may be maintained by the decedent’s estate or the personal representative after an individual’s death.  The court indicated that, generally, a cause of action for economic harm can be pursued post-mortem.  The court further acknowledged the parties agreed the survival statute did not apply to the wife and children’s claims because they were based on their own damages, and the husband’s non-economic claims were no longer viable due to his death.

Noting loss of consortium is a derivative claim, the court described the dispute before it as an issue of “whether the consortium claimant can maintain his or her claim for loss of consortium when the decedent cannot claim non-economic damages.”  Plaintiffs argued the loss of consortium claim stemmed from the medical providers’ negligence; therefore, they could recover so long as they established the medical providers were negligent towards the husband, and the negligence caused the loss of consortium until the husband’s death.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs, noting the husband’s medical providers failed to rationalize why “an individual could maintain an action for a prior harm inflicted on the familial relationship, but no longer maintain that same action—for the same harm, to the same relationship, for the same time period—upon the injured party’s death.”  (Martin v. Staheli, M.D., et al., No. S0900CV201600214, Dec. 19, 2019, at p. 9.)

Takeaway

Insurance carriers should be cognizant that they are not off the hook for surviving family members’ loss of consortium claims where the injured individual dies as a result of unrelated causes during the pendency of the litigation regardless of the claims derivative nature. Under such circumstances, carriers and defense counsel should be sure to prevent Plaintiffs from asserting damages for loss of consortium beyond the date of the injured party’s death as the Court of Appeal made clear the date of death is the cutoff date for such damages stemming from the tortious conduct.

 

[1] A.R.S. 14-13110

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