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Selders v. Armentrout

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs sued for the wrongful death of their three children. Defendants asserted that damages are limited to pecuniary loss, while plaintiffs asserted that loss of society, comfort, and companionship of the children are compensable.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under Nebraska law, the loss of society, comfort and companionship are recoverable for a child’s death in a wrongful death suit.

    Facts. Three children, aged 15, 13, and 9, were killed in an automobile accident due to the negligent conduct of the defendants. The defendants contended that the measure of damages is limited to pecuniary loss, while plaintiffs asserted that the loss of society, comfort, and companionship of the children are compensable elements of damage, along with evidence of amounts invested in nurture, education, and maintenance. The trial court instructed the jury that the damages allowed included only the monetary value of the contributions and services, which the parents could reasonably have expected to receive from the children less the reasonable cost to the parents of supporting the children.

    Issue. Was the trial court proper in limiting the wrongful death award for plaintiffs to their pecuniary loss?

    Held. No. Judgment of trial court as to liability is confirmed, judgment as to damages is reversed and remanded.
    * The original pecuniary loss concept arose from a historical tradition when children during minority were regarded as an economic asset to parents. This resulted from the early age at when children would go to work. Today, damages in wrongful death cases deal with a speculative future life, based on a fictitious future that will never happen. To literally limit wrongful death damages for a child to the monetary value of the services the next of kin could have reasonably expect to receive would result in the average child being of negative worth.
    * In this state, statutes do not limit damages for wrongful death to pecuniary loss, but this Court has imposed such a restriction. However, the Court imposes no such limit for injuries to the marital relationship. We see no reason for this discrepancy. Thus, the court held that the measure of damages in a child’s wrongful death suit shall include the loss of society, comfort, and companionship of the child.

    Dissent. The majority’s opinion arbitrarily overrules 50 years of settled law for no clear purpose.

    Discussion. Pecuniary loss statutes that have the trier of fact determine the monetary contribution that the decedent would have made during his lifetime to plaintiff are known as loss-to-survivors statutes. However, a growing number of states have followed the principle case, allowing recovery for loss of companionship or consortium.


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