The Connecticut Law Tribune reported earlier this month on a new Connecticut Supreme Court case that, for the first time, allowed claims brought by kids to proceed based on injuries suffered by their parents.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have a new weapon in their arsenal. The state Supreme Court, in a split decision, has ruled that Connecticut children have the right to sue for loss of consortium in personal injury cases. Previously, only spouses were eligible to collect such damages.
The court, in overturning longtime precedent, reasoned that there was a “unique emotional attachment” between parents and children, and that the grown-ups provide “critically important services” to their offspring.
So what’s the big deal for employers? Well, in doing so, the court reversed a decision nearly twenty years ago that had everything to do with employers. That case, Mendillo v. Board of Education for the Town of East Haddam, involved a wrongful discharge by a former high school principal.
In that suit, there was also a claim for loss of parental consortium — in other words, were the principal’s kids entitled to compensation because of the actions of the employer impacted their relationship with their parents. As noted by the Tribune: “The principal argued that the wrongful discharge forced her to take a job much further away from home, and thus the long commute deprived her kids of her love and affection.”
Upon reconsideration of the relevant considerations, including the five factors that this court found determinative in Mendillo, we now agree with the concurring and dissenting opinion in Mendillo that the public policy factors favoring recognition of a cause of action for loss of parental consortium outweigh those factors disfavoring recognition. More specifically, we agree that the unique emotional attachment between parents and children, the importance of ensuring the continuity of the critically important services that parents provide to their children, society’s interest in the continued development of children as contributing members of society, and the public policies in favor of compensating innocent parties and deterring wrongdoing provide compelling reasons to recognize such a cause of action.
The court does place some limits on this new claim. First, the claim must be joined with the parent’s “negligence claim whenever possible.” Second, the claim does not survive if there has been a settlement or an adverse judgment against the parent. Third, the child can only claim damages for the period when the child is a minor. The court also suggests that the claim should be limited to damages arising from injury to the parent’s life.
The court goes on to add that a fact finding reviewing this must also “consider whether the parent’s injuries were insignificant or serious and whether they were temporary or permanent”. Those will be determined by a case-by-case basis.
Is a parent’s termination of employment that last six months enough to state a claim? This last limitation by the court suggests perhaps not. But suppose the employee now takes a job two hours away and doesn’t see her kids as often. What then?
At a minimum, the court’s overturning of Mendillo opens the door to a whole new set of potential claims against employers for terminating employees. How big an opening the court created remains to be seen.