N.H. Court: ‘Loss of Familial Relationship” Not Separate Claim

By | May 11, 2006

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently ruled that a loss of “familial relationship” caused by the death of a child does not constitute a separate and additional bodily injury claim to trigger an insurance policy’s per person bodily injury liability limit.

In Stephen F. Guilfoy v. United Services Automobile Association, Justice Richard E. Galway wrote for the court that a claim for damages attributable to loss of familial relationship is analogous to a loss of consortium claim and is a “consequential damage derivative of the original underlying bodily injury,” and not a separate claim

On July 23, 2003, the Guilfoys’ minor son (and only child) was killed while riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by a friend. The friend was insured under an automobile liability policy issued by USAA that provided liability coverage in the amount of $300,000 per accident, subject to a $100,000 per person limitation.

The Guilfoys brought a wrongful death claim on behalf of their minor son’s estate for which USAA paid $100,000—the per person policy limit for bodily injury. They also sought statutory damages in their individual capacities for loss of familial relationship.

USAA denied coverage for the petitioners’ individual claims and the insurer’s decision was upheld by a lower court.

On appeal, the Guilfoys argued that their individual claims for loss of familial relationship should have triggered a separate per person liability limit under the policy. In support, they maintained that they have separate statutory rights, under the state’s wrongful death statute (RSA 556:12, III), to file individual claims for loss of familial relationship; they suffered bodily harm and bodily sickness as a result of learning of their son’s death; and the policy expressly provides coverage for “derivative or consequential damages recoverable by any person,” which encompasses the their individual claims for loss of familial relationship.

But the court rejected their argument. The justices concluded that like loss of consortium, loss of familial relationship is a consequential damage derivative of the original underlying bodily injury and, as such, it does not constitute a separate “bodily injury,” and it is not included in insurance policy language that defines “bodily injury” in terms analogous to sickness or disease. Therefore, it does not trigger a separate and additional per person bodily injury limit under the policy.

Thus the $100,000 USAA paid for the wrongful death claim filed on behalf of their deceased son’s estate was the maximum per person amount available under the policy for all damages arising from their deceased son’s underlying “bodily injuries.”

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