California Supreme Court Rules Spouse’s Wrongful Death Case Barred by Prior Loss of Consortium Suit Seeking Identical Recovery

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A recent decision by the California Supreme Court sheds light on the similarities between statutory wrongful death claims and common law loss of consortium claims brought by a wrongfully injured person’s spouse. Last week in Boeken v. Philip Morris, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 4257, the California Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that a woman was barred by the doctrine of res judicata from filing a wrongful death action claiming damages for loss of companionship and affection, based on the dismissal with prejudice of an earlier loss of consortium suit that sought the same type of damages. The voluntarily dismissal with prejudice of the earlier consortium suit constituted a final judgment on the merits, thus barring her later wrongful death suit on principles of res judicata. The Court’s discussion of the common law origins of loss of consortium claims, the statutory origins of wrongful death claims, and the nature of damages compensable under each claim provides interesting insights into California’s tort system.

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