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Nancy Braus Texas A&M Bonfire Case Extinguished by Supreme Court: Loss of Consortium Ruling Left Untouched

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By Admin on March 09, 2009 11:51 AM

The Supreme Court today ruled that it will not hear the case brought by Nancy Braus, the mother of a student injured in the Nov. 18, 1999 collapse of a ceremonial log pile that killed 12 people and injured 27 at Texas A&M University. She had sued school officials and others, claiming loss of consortium based on the injuries sustained by her son Dominic Braus in the collapse.

The AP gave some background to the case, noting that:

"The 90-year-old bonfire tradition was suspended after the 1999 collapse of the 59-foot-high, wedding cake-like stack of more than 5,000 logs. An A&M commission blamed the collapse on flawed construction techniques and the lack of adequate supervision of students assembling the stack."

However, the court below had rejected Nancy Braus' action based on a 2003 Texas Supreme Court decision which found that a "parent does not have a claim which can be asserted against those alleged responsible for the injuries to an adult child", or, in legal terms a "filial loss of consortium" claim.

Loss of consortium claims are often brought in cases involving the loss or severe injury of a family member and are based on the loss of love, affection, protection, emotional support, services, companionship, care and society that can occur when a family member is injured. Although loss of consortium claims often involve the death or severe injury of a spouse, consortium is defined not only as "the right of one spouse to the company, affection, and assistance of and to sexual relations with the other," but also as, "the right of a parent or child to the company, affection, and assistance of the other."

However, states vary on whether, and to what extent, they allow the latter "filial consortium" claims involving parents and their children. In cases involving the wrongful death of a child, most states allow the parents to recover consortium damages. On the other hand, if a child is only injured, most states do not allow recovery of such damages. Still, a number of states such as Florida and Massachusetts, do allow parents to recover on consortium claims for injuries to a child.

Today's Supreme Court order simply refused to hear Nancy Braus' case, and thus, it remains in the hands of the states to determine how they deal with filial loss of consortium claims, one way or the other.