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The marital alliance between a husband and wife and their respective right to each other's support, cooperation, aid, and companionship.
Loss of consortium is an actionable injury for which money damages may be awarded. The loss of the love, sexual relations, and services of a spouse are being considered tangible injuries to an increasing extent. An action for loss of consortium is based upon the inconvenience of having a spouse who has been injured. Such injury might result from medical malpractice, assault and battery, negligence, the sale of addictive drugs, wrongful death, or false imprisonment. The key requirement is that the wrongful act has a debilitating effect upon the individual whose spouse is initiating the action.
Consortium encompasses services performed by a spouse. The common law did not recognize a wife's right to services on her husband's part. Because she was viewed as a social and legal inferior, she could not demand that he work for her and, therefore, she had no remedy for loss of sexual relations, affection, or services. The wrongdoer was liable only to the husband directly.
A husband was considered to have suffered tangible damages for injury to his wife and, initially, had the sole right to bring an action for loss of consortium. The loss of services that had to be asserted included his wife's general usefulness, household services such as cooking and cleaning, industry, and frugality. Eventually, the assumption evolved that a man suffered these impairments upon injury to his wife, and damages were recoverable by him for any period in which he was divested of sex, fellowship, and affection, in spite of the fact that his wife might not be responsible for housekeeping.
Subsequently, the Married Women's Property Acts (29 Stat. 193 ) emerged. Some states interpreted these acts to mean that a man could no longer sue for the loss of his wife's services, as she was a full legal person. Most states, however, interpreted the acts as extending to women the right to sue for loss of consortium. A plethora of recent cases indicate that either spouse may bring action for loss of consortium.
In 1950, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Hitaffer v. Argonne Co., 183 F.2d 811 (D.C. Cir. 1950), held that women had a right to sue for loss of consortium. Many states directly repudiated its holding and adhered to the old rule, while others supported the change.
By the late 1970s, many courts revised their views and held that women may sue for loss of consortium. Other jurisdictions refuse to rule in favor of the change on the ground that it can be made only by the state legislatures.
Some states seek to prevent double recoveries by requiring that the spouse who is suing for loss of consortium assert that claim in the same action as the spouse who is suing for damages for injuries. When this might be inconvenient or impossible in some instances, other states require judicial supervision of the second action in order to ensure that the amount of damages awarded will not be excessive.