Benda v. Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City – Suing for Child Injury at School

As students head back to school this semester, there are a range of potential dangers some may face on school grounds, on the bus or while playing sports. childhand

School districts do have a responsibility to properly supervise children and keep them safe. The extent of that responsibility may vary depending on the circumstances and age of the child. When child injury does occur, it’s important to seek out an experienced injury lawyer because these cases are complex due to the fact the school district is a branch of the government. That means assertions of sovereign immunity may need to be overcome, and these are not simple matters.

In the recent case of Benda v. Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, the question was whether parents were entitled to file a loss of consortium claim against the school district for the severe injuries suffered by their son, when loss of consortium claims are typically reserved for spousal losses.

For those who may be unfamiliar, loss of consortium is a type of claim in which a person alleges damages were suffered by certain family members of a person who was injured or killed by the negligent or intentional wrongful acts of another person. This type of claim can be filed by loved ones of the victim, though it is usually the spouse that reserves this right. Claims for filial loss of consortium may be filed in North Carolina, though these rights vary from state-to-state. Filial loss of consortium claims are meant to compensate a parent or parents for the loss of love and companionship of a child. Some states also allow parental consortium claims. 

Ascertaining the value of these claims can be difficult. It’s more of an art than exact science. After all, it almost seems callous to place a monetary amount on the love of a child. But the goal is as much to hold the defendant accountable – and prevent other families from suffering – as it is about compensating the victims.

In the Benda case, recently before the Utah Supreme Court, the child in question was a 14-year-old in 2012 when he was injured in drama class while working as part of a student crew on the school’s drama production. The drama teacher instructed the student to climb onto a lift to replace light bulbs in the auditorium. While the student was on the lift – 30 feet in the air – the teacher told the other drama students to push the lift over from one light to the next. This had tragic consequences, as the student fell and suffered severe, life-threatening injuries.

He did ultimately survive, though he had incurred permanent traumatic brain damage.

Two years later, his parents filed a child injury lawsuit against the school alleging negligence resulting in severe, life-threatening injuries. In addition to claims of negligence and vicarious liability on behalf of their son, the parents filed claims for loss of filial consortium.

The high school conceded fault and accepted responsibility for the student’s actual injuries. However, the school moved to dismiss the loss of filial consortium claim, arguing the state doesn’t allow such a claim; only loss of consortium claims brought by spouses should be recognized, the school argued. Trial court granted the district’s motion to dismiss this claim and parents appealed to the state supreme court, which vacated.

This was a question of first impression for the state high court, which found that a claim for filial loss of consortium in a case where a minor child suffers serious injury that meets the same definition as the one that meets the spousal consortium statute. The court held that this cause of action was preempted by the state legislature and should be allowed to proceed.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Benda v. Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Aug. 25, 2016, Utah Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Steinberg v. Sahara Sam’s Oasis: Partially-Paralyzed Customer Can Sue Water Park Despite Liability Waiver, Aug. 30, 2016, Asheville School Injury Lawyer Blog

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