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Borer v. American Airlines, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    A mother of nine children was injured when a light fixture, which was allegedly defective in its manufacture or installation, fell from the ceiling at Kennedy Airport’s American Airlines Terminal and hit her.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under Rodriguez v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., when one spouse is injured by another’s negligence, the other spouse can bring a claim for loss of consortium, which is “loss of conjugal fellowship and sexual relations,†as well as “loss of love, companionship, society . . . and household services.â€

    Facts.

    Patricia Borer, mother of nine children, was injured when a light fixture, which was allegedly defective in its manufacture or installation, fell from the ceiling at Kennedy Airport’s American Airlines Terminal and hit her. The children (Plaintiffs) sued several including manufacturer and American Airlines claiming loss of parental consortium and seeking damages in the amount of $100,000 per child. Los Angeles County Superior Court sustained American Airlines’ demurrer with no leave to amend and dismissed. Plaintiffs appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a child can bring a cause of action for loss of parental consortium similarly to the cause of action a spouse can bring when a spouse is injured.

    Held.

    A child may not bring a negligence claim for loss of “parental consortium.†The inability to do so does not violate the child’s equal protection rights. Judgement affirmed.

    Dissent.

    Mosk, Justice, dissents and would reverse the judgment. Mosk states all reasons stated in support of this Court’s decision were contemplated and rejected in Rodriguez. A jury is charged with determining “pain and suffering†damages and so should be capable of quantifying damages for loss of consortium. Fear of double recovery can be handled by procedural mechanisms such as “joinder of actions and appropriate instructions to the jury.†It was acknowledged in Rodriguez that “the nonsexual loss suffered by a spouse is at least as great as the sexual loss.†Despite the rejection of this type of claim in other jurisdictions, “this court has initiated new trends in the law of personal torts by extending the protection of the courts to previously neglected classes of accident victims.†While line drawing is important, “[j]ustice, compassion, and respect for our humanitarian values require that the ‘line’ in this matter be drawn elsewhere.â€

    Concurrence.

    Clark, Richardson, Sullivan, and Write, JJ., concur.

    Discussion.

    This Court’s decision is strongly formed on public policy considerations and in distinguishing the Rodriguez case to this current one. (1) Loss of consortium is “an intangible, nonpecuniary loss,†the loss of which cannot be brought back by an award of monetary damages. It is a difficult to put a number on these types of nonmonetary damages, which brings about the possibility of “double recovery.†(2) A cause of action by a child is distinguished from Rodriguez because (a) much of the basis of a spouse’s claim is loss of sexual relations; (b) there could be far more claims by multiple children as opposed to one spouse; (c) all 18 jurisdictions where this issue has been brought have rejected the proposed cause of action by a child. (3) Distinguishing this claim from a cause of action for wrongful death, where there is strong public policy considerations in support of preventing a tortfeasor from escaping liability versus in this situation the tortfeasor will be held liable to the injured parent therefore being liable to the children is “not essential to prevent [him or her] from totally escaping liability.&rdquo.


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