I am Columbus, OH today speaking an Ohio Association for Justice seminar program. The hotel where I am staying is right down the street from the Ohio Supreme Court building. It is appropriate, then, that I write about a new opinion handed down by that court on the issue of damages that may be recovered by a spouse who took off time from work to care for a spouse injured by the negligence of another.
The plaintiff was a financial planner who took off work to care for his injured wife. He sought over $1,000,000 in loss of income. A 5-2 majority of the court rejected his claim for this element of loss, holding instead that he could only recover the economic value of the care as if it had been provided by a non-family member.
To be more precise: "part of the injured spouse’s damages against a defendant can include the fair market value of the home health care provided by the uninjured spouse. Damages are measured not by the lost income of the supporting spouse but by the market value of the services he or she renders."
Because the plaintiffs did not introduce any evidence of the market value of the wages the claim was dismissed.
This decision hurts this plaintiff and other high-income spouses who decide to care for a loved one rather than bring a stranger into the home. However, the decision permits low income people to seek damages at the market rate, and home health care workers hired through an agency are very expensive. If the "market value of the services" is the test, evidence that the spouse would have only made a fraction of the dollars he or she seeks for providing the care if he or she had been at her regular job should not be admissible.
The case is Hutchings v. Childress, Slip Opinion No. 2008-Ohio-4568 (Ohio Sept. 17, 2008). Read the opinion here.