Loss of Consortium under Georgia Law

Georgia loss of consortium law

Often you will read a plaintiff in a lawsuit was awarded "loss of consortium" damages. This post by Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard Armond addresses what "loss of consortium" is under Georgia law. The Armond Firm, LLC, is based in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and handles serious injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia.

Loss of consortium damages are available only to married persons under Georgia law

Loss of consortium in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia is a type of damage available only to a plaintiff who is the spouse of the injured person. When one or both spouses have been injured or when one spouse is deceased because of the negligence or bad act of another party, the spouse(s) can seek loss of consortium damages. These damages are not available to other loved ones of the injured party such as children, parents, fiances/fiancees, or other significant others--only spouses in a legal marriage.

What are loss of consortium damages for under Georgia law?

They are for loss of services of the injured spouse. Loss of services includes household labor, but it is not limited to that and also includes loss of society, companionship, affections, and all matters of value arising from marriage. As you can see, loss of consortium damages are for both the loss of the spouse's ability to help with household labor, but also for those intrinsic aspects of a marriage such as the loss of relationship with one's spouse. Yes, this can include things such as loss of a sex life which is often one of the first things mentioned in news stories, but it also includes things like the inability to travel the world with one's spouse.

How are loss of consortium damages calculated in Georgia?

A large part of loss of consortium damages are somewhat immeasurable. How then does a Georgia jury measure such damages in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit? The judge will instruct the jury that these damages are measured by their reasonable value as determined by the enlightened conscience of impartial jurors taking into consideration the nature of the services and all the circumstances of the case. There does not have to be direct evidence of their value. In other words, a jury hears evidence of the marital relationship before the tort was committed and does its best to determine how much it has changed since. The jury then decides how much that is worth based on their personal beliefs and values, i.e., their enlightened conscience.

In wrongful death cases and those serious injury cases where the injury will last the rest of the lifetime of one of the spouses, the jury looks at the joint life expectancy of both spouses (how long they would have lived together as a married couple). This can often be shown by mortality tables or expert testimony.

Text of the Georgia jury charges on loss of consortium:

A married person has a right to recover for the loss of consortium, sometimes called loss of services, of the spouse. You should be careful to remember that services the law refers to are not only household labor but also society, companionship, affection, and all matters of value arising from marriage. There does not have to be any direct evidence of their value, but the measure of damages is their reasonable value, as determined by the enlightened conscience of impartial jurors taking into consideration the nature of the services and all the circumstances of the case.
— Georgia Suggested Pattern Jury Instructions, Fifth Edition, 66.400
When permanent loss of consortium occurs, you would determine the damages on the basis of the joint life expectancy of the husband and wife, that is, by how long they would both have lived together if the injury of the spouse had not occurred. That joint lifetime loss would have to be reduced to its present cash value.
— Georgia Suggested Pattern Jury Instructions, Fifth Edition, 66.401

Hopefully this post gives some understanding of what is meant by "loss of consortium" under Georgia law.

If you or a loved one have been injured by the negligence or bad act of another in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Can Georgia Judges Reduce Personal Injury Jury Awards (Remittitur)?

This blog post by personal injury attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, a Gwinnett County personal injury and wrongful death practice available to handle cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State Georgia, answers the question of whether a trial judge in Georgia has the authority to reduce the amount of a plaintiff's jury verdict at the conclusion of a lawsuit. The answer, though it typically rarely happens, is yes. Georgia judges also have the authority under the same statute, though it is even rarer, to add to the amount of damages awarded in a personal injury verdict.

What is the legal authority in Georgia law for a judge to add to or reduce the amount of damages awarded in a jury verdict?

The statutory authority is found at O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12 which states:

"(a) The question of damages is ordinarily one for the jury; and the court should not interfere with the jury's verdict unless the damages awarded by the jury are clearly so inadequate or so excessive as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence in the case.
(b) If the jury's award of damages is clearly so inadequate or so excessive as to any party as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence, the trial court may order a new trial as to damages only, as to any or all parties, or may condition the grant of such a new trial upon any party's refusal to accept an amount determined by the trial court.
(c) Only one grant of a new trial by the judge may be based upon the powers conferred by this Code section. The first grant of a new trial other than one ordered under this Code section and which order granting the new trial is not based on this Code section shall remain governed by Code Section 5-5-50."

As you can see, Georgia judges have the legal authority to add or subtract from the amount of damages awarded in a jury's verdict. The common law term for adding to a verdict is called "additur" and for subtracting from a verdict it is called "remittitur" (note: remittitur also has a second meaning in the practice of law, that being when a higher court such as an appellate court "remands" or sends a case back to a lower court). However, this ruling is not final as you will see below.

When can a Georgia judge reduce or increase the amount of a personal injury lawsuit verdict?

As stated in O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12(a), damages are ordinarily reserved for a jury to determine, and they should only be altered when they are "clearly so inadequate or so excessive as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence." Again, this happens rarely, and from observation, it is much rarer for a judge to add to a verdict than to subtract from a verdict.

What happens if a judge reduces a Georgia personal injury lawsuit verdict?

As stated in O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12(b), the judge may order a new trial as to damages only (wherein proving liability for a tort would not be at issue), or the judge can order a new trial on damages only and condition the new trial on either the plaintiff, defendant, or both refusing to accept the judge's ruling reducing (or adding to) the amount of damages. In other words, the judge's decision to add to or subtract from a verdict does not have to be final as the statute contemplates a trial on damages only in such an event. In the rare event when a judge subtracts from a verdict, the issue for a Georgia personal injury plaintiff is whether the amount awarded is appropriate. Ask any attorney who has tried numerous cases and you will learn no two juries are exactly alike. There is always the possibility a second jury could award even less than the judge had reduced the first verdict (as well as the possibility of a higher verdict). 

If you or a loved one have suffered a personal injury in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.