Loss Of Consortium Claim And Auto Policy

Most people in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Irving, Fort Worth, Colleyville, Dallas, Mesquite, Garland, and other places in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex do not really understand what a “loss of consortium” claim is.
A 1981, Texas Supreme Court case described a loss of consortium claim as “companionship, emotional support, love, felicity, and sexual relations,” and recognized that loss of consortium involves harm to “the intangible and sentimental elements” of a marriage.
How a loss of consortium claim works as it relates to an insurance policy claim was discussed in a 1987, Texas Supreme Court case styled, Ella Jo McGovern v. Linda Kay Williams et al. This case concerned the liability of an insurance company under an auto liability policy. Here is some background.
Robert McGovern and wife, Ella Jo, sued Linda Williams for damages arising out of an auto accident. State Farm, the insurer for Ms. Williams, intervened and tendered $10,000 as full payment of its policy limits. The trial court determined that $10,000 was the applicable policy limit and discharged State Farm from any further liability. This court upheld the trial court ruling.
Robert McGovern, a City of Dallas employee, sustained personal injuries in an auto accident. The City, as subrogee, initiated suit against Linda Williams for Mr. McGovern’s personal injuries. Mr. and Mrs. McGovern later brought a separate suit against Ms. Williams and others for Mr. McGovern’s personal injuries and for Mrs. McGovern’s loss of consortium. Ms. Williams’ policy with State Farm insured Williams to the extent of $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence for bodily injury claims. State Farm tendered the $10,000 pursuant to the “per person” policy limit. Mrs. McGovern disputed the amount of the tender, contending that she and Mr. McGovern were each entitled to $10,000 in insurance proceeds and that State Farm’s obligation was $20,000.
At issue in this case was whether loss of consortium is a separate “bodily injury” to a spouse for purposes of applying the minimum insurance policy limits contained in Williams’ policy and required by the Texas Safety Responsibility Law (TSRL). Mrs. McGovern contends that her claim for loss of consortium constitutes a “bodily injury” as that term is used in the TSRL and that she is entitled to independently recover from State Farm under the $10,000 “per person” liability limit.
Mrs. McGovern argued the TSRL was intended to encompass loss of consortium as a separate “bodily injury” because the legislature’s general intent in enacting the statute was to protect persons from loss caused by negligent motorists. She contended that bodily injury is not limited to actual physical contact but is to be construed liberally to include mental anguish and emotional trauma. For support, she relied on the 1981 case mentioned above.
In discussing this case, the court said the TSRL refers to liability limits due to bodily injury or death to any one or more persons in any one accident. It is undisputed that only Mr. McGovern was involved in the accident giving rise to his personal injuries. Thus, because only one person was involved in that accident, the limit of State Farm’s liability is $10,000.
In further discussion, the court stated that the term “bodily injury” cannot be reasonably construed to incorporate loss of consortium. While it is true that loss of consortium is a separate and independent cause of action, that action is a derivative claim that arises only as a consequence of injuries to one’s spouse. The fact that Mrs. McGovern has a separate cause of action for loss of consortium does not mean, as Mrs. McGovern asserts, that loss of consortium constitutes a “bodily injury.”