A recent New Mexico Supreme Court case once again addresses loss of consortium claims. Specifically, the Court in Wachocki v. Bernalillo County Sheriff addresses a claim for loss of consortium by a sibling.
The case involved the death of 22 year old Jason Wachocki which was caused by a speeding Metropolitan Detention Center van. A successful wrongful death claim was brought on behalf of Jason‘s estate. However, the loss of consortium claim brought by Jason‘s brother, Bill Wachocki, was denied by both the district court and the New Mexico Court of Appeals.
The basis for the loss of consortium claim was the very close relationship shared by the brother. Growing up, they had shared a bedroom and at the time of Jason‘s death, they had been sharing an apartment for 8 months for which they shared expenses. Bill had a close relationship sharing many activities together. Bill looked up to Jason as a role model confidante.
The Court relied upon the 2003 New Mexico Supreme Court case of Lozoya v. Sanchez.. Lozoya set forth several factors for consideration of a loss of consortium claim:
“the duration of the relationship, the degree of mutual dependence, the extent of common contributions to a life together, the extent and quality of shared experience, and . . . whether the plaintiff and the injured person were members of the same household, their emotional reliance on each other, the particulars of their day to day relationship, and the manner in which they related to each other in attending to life‘s mundane requirements.”
The Court of Appeals determined that the brothers did not share a sufficiently close relationship as required under Lozoya. Bill‘s attorneys argued that the Court of Appeals improperly applied the “mutual dependence” factors set forth in Lozoya. He argued that this factor should not be applied to a sibling relationship since it was intended for spousal type relationships.
The Supreme Court disagreed with Bill‘s position refusing to alter the Lozoya test to fit the sibling relationship. The Court believed altering the factors would result in countless future permutations to fit an indeterminate variety of relationships in the future. The Court suggested that this would cause undue confusion on the lower courts perhaps spawning lawsuits for all manners of relationships.
Instead, the Court determined to simplify the Lozoya factors to accommodate varying relationships. Though Bill‘s loss of consortium claim was denied, the Court made clear that its decision was not an absolute bar to sibling loss of consortium claims. The Court held, consistent with the Court of Appeals, that the key to the analysis of loss of consortium claims is “mutual dependence” factor set forth in Lozoya.
The Court suggested that the level of mutual dependence might exist between siblings noting that unmarried cohabitants and grandparents had shown the necessary mutual dependence in past cases. Interestingly, the Court noted that most other states do not recognize sibling loss of consortium claims. The Court seemed to suggest that in New Mexico, though it is not entirely clear from the opinion, that not only might siblings meet this standard but other relationships as well.
In any event, the Court determined that though the brothers were very close, they were not mutually dependent as required under Lozoya. Unlike spouses, unmarried cohabitants, grandparents, though they had a close emotional attachment and shared expenses, this did not meet the level of mutual dependence to support a loss of consortium claim