Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Caregiver Spouses In Ohio: Full Time Job, Second Rate Pay (So Much For Family Values)

Here's the scenario: your spouse is injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of another driver. She sustains a serious, permanent, traumatic brain injury. She can no longer speak, think, or care for herself normally, much less perform every day activities like driving. You take months off work from your business to personally attend to her medical needs, take her to appointments and therapy, assume all of her household activities, and you will continue to do this indefinitely because her injuries are permanent.

Obviously, your business suffers and you lose substantial income from work because you choose to be at your wife's side as her primary caregiver, and not pass her care off to strangers.

Is your lost income recoverable against the negligent driver's insurance company? No, according to The Ohio Supreme Court in Hutchings v. Childress (you can click on the title of this post to read the opinion until I figure out what the heck is wrong with my direct link function...)

This was an issue of "first impression" for the Court (meaning that no previous Ohio court or legislation had addressed the issue). The Court had 3 choices here: (1) recognize that when someone's carelessness causes a life changing injury, and a spouse assumes the role of primary caregiver, your reasonable wages lost due to caring for your spouse are recoverable against the negligent party's insurance company; (2) allow for the "reasonable value" of the services performed by the spouse if they were performed instead by professionals like nurses' aides, therapists, etc; or (3) not allow for any compensation whatsoever.

The Supreme Court ruled that, despite the husband's choosing to become his wife's primary caretaker, and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income in the process, the negligent driver's insurance company didn't owe them a penny in lost family income. Rather, all that the insurance company owed was the "reasonable value" of similar services, such as if the husband hired a nurses' aide to care for her.

What kind of message does this send? Let's see. Someone's carelessness turns your life on its head. Your spouse will never be the same. You do the right thing, step it up, abandon the role of husband or wife and become caregiver, bather, therapist, cook, driver, and most importantly, are just THERE at every turn for your spouse because he or she deserves no less. And your business suffers.

The result? Your spouse gets first rate care, your income suffers significantly, and you're "entitled" to the mimimum wage rate for someone like a nurses' aide. You're essentially punished for doing the right thing. Who benefits from this? The negligent party and his insurance company.

Frankly, this decision won't act as a disincentive for spouses to stay home and care for their injured spouses, as such a choice is a selfless act of love that is probably made irrespective of what consequences such a decision brings. But if there's a choice between recognizing the value of that honorable choice, and all the losses that go with it, or marginalizing it and actually rewarding the negligent party's insurance company with bargain basement accountability, the choice seems pretty clear.

But now this decision is officially "the law." I thought we were a society that honored and believed in "family values." This decision certainly doesn't promote or recognize that concept.

(visit our website at www.n-wlaw.com)

1 comment:

jodi said...

did the 2 recently RE-ELECTED justices join in this "family values" decision? this is why we need to make informed choices in the voting booth.