Loss Of Parental Consortium Is An Issue Best Left To The Legislature

Idaho courts have recognized the concept that parents may recover for the loss of society and companionship of their minor children. Similarly, Idaho courts have recognized claims for loss of consortium when brought by a spouse. However, Idaho has not clearly recognized that a minor child may bring a claim for loss of consortium arising out of injury to a parent. The case law on this issue is not readily clear. For example, Idaho Code § 6-1601(5) defines “non-economic damages” to mean subjective, nonmonetary losses, such as loss of society and companionship; loss of consortium; or destruction or impairment of the parent-child relationship. Yet despite this, district courts have recently been issuing decisions indicating that there is no claim for loss of parental consortium by a child.  

COMPETING POLICY CONCERNS

The legal history on this issue is convoluted. The Idaho Supreme Court has noted that historically, Idaho has recognized, “the right of parents and children to recover for loss of comfort, society and companionship.” Conner v. Hodges, 157 Idaho 19, 27, 333 P.3d 130, 138 (2014) (citing Hayward v. Yost, 72 Idaho 415, 425, 242 P.2d 971, 977 (1952) However, in Conner itself, the Idaho Supreme Court held that they would not extend consortium claims outside of the marriage context. In essence, what one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away. Further, Idaho Code § 5-310 allows parents to sue for injuries to a child, but not the reverse. Further, Idaho Code § 5-310 has been altered since it was originally enacted in 1915, and the changes have altered the way courts look at loss of consortium claims since the time of the Hayward v. Yost opinion.

Extending loss of consortium claims to non-spouses requires a look into public policy considerations. Some policy considerations include the economic burden the claim would place on society, especially in cases where there are several children claiming loss of parental consortium. Though this may seem harsh—expanding consortium claims to children brings up concerns that are not present in the spousal context. Would adult children, stepchildren, adopted children, foster children, or grandchildren be entitled to recovery? 

Additionally, courts have worried about the potential for double recovery. Courts have cited to the fact that jury awards to spouses claiming loss of consortium often already include the damages suffered by children for losing a parent. Allowing the child to then file a claim for loss of consortium would result in double recovery. 

Finally, there are concerns over whether the litigation process will harm children who file loss of parental consortium claims. For example, subjecting a child to a pretrial investigation, depositions, or trial testimony to test the validity of their relationship with the parent would only add to the already inflicted emotional distress they have been subjected to. 

THE LEGISLATURE IS BETTER EQUIPPED TO CONSIDER THESE POLICY CONCERNS

As outlined above, Idaho courts tend to reject loss of parental consortium claims, even though there is no clear case law on this issue from the Idaho Supreme Court. Dealing with these types of considerations that go along with these claims are not an issue for the courts, but rather for the Legislature. By way of example, the Idaho Legislature enacted Idaho’s wrongful death statutes to address, in part, claims by minors where the parents have died. The Legislature can more appropriately address “public policy, social mores and moral values” as discussed in Conner and take the needed time to evaluate these important issues.

INSIGHTS FOR GF CLIENTS

Whether loss of parental consortium claims exist in Idaho is not cut and dry. Despite this, the Idaho Supreme Court has not specifically ruled on this issue, and lower courts have repeatedly dismissed such claims due to the evolution of statutory and case law regarding these claims. Until this issue is fully addressed by the Idaho Supreme Court or the Idaho Legislature, these claims will likely be addressed on a case-by-case basis. 

Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other issues facing your company.