In Wisconsin, if an individual gets injured or dies due to the negligence of another person their spouse may be entitled to “Loss of Companionship.” This type of damage remedy is known by other names like “Loss of Consortium” or “Loss of Society.” Whatever name a court may use, the purpose of this remedy is to provide relief for damages the spouse suffered because of their husband or wife’s injury or death. This includes damages for things like lost love and affection, comfort, aid, and any other elements that normally arise in a close, intimate and harmonious marriage relationship that might be lost or diminished because of an injury or death. With Wisconsin recent passing of a Domestic Partnership Registry, a question I get often asked is whether loss of companionship damages applies to domestic partners. There has not been a case decided on this issue regarding domestic partners but reading the law and previous cases I believe the answer is no. Also, individuals who are not married but in a long-term relationship are not entitled to loss of companionship benefits.
The Wisconsin legislature passed the domestic partnership laws in 2009. Until recently, there was a debate as to whether those laws were constitutional because in 2006 Wisconsin voters amended the State’s constitution to define marriage between one man and one woman and for there to be no legal rights available for identical or substantially similar arrangements for unmarried individuals. The Wisconsin courts found that the domestic partnership laws are not identical or substantially similar to marriage in providing rights to individuals who register. Therefore the laws are constitutional. One area where rights differ is the availability of a loss of companionship remedy.
Wisconsin courts have long held that individuals who are unmarried but in a committed relationship are not entitled to loss of companionship damages if their partner gets injured. Even individuals who are engaged to be married cannot recover for loss of companionship. The courts’ reasoning is they do not want to lose the certainty of who is entitled to damages for loss of companionship. Drawing the distinction line at marriage creates a bright line rule that courts can easily follow. Thus the damage of loss of companionship is only available to spouses in an injury case. This likely applies to domestic partners too.
Things get trickier when there is a wrongful death action. In those cases a domestic partner is entitled to proceeds that arise from the wrongful death of their partner. Individuals who are in a committed relationship but not married or registered do not get wrongful death proceeds. However, based on my reading of the statutes, a domestic partner is not entitled to loss of companionship damages while a spouse would be. It is unclear whether this distinction was on purpose or mere inattentive drafting by the legislature. Whatever the case, it limits the damage remedy that domestic partners receive when they lose a loved one.
While some benefits have been granted to individuals who enter a domestic partnership, there are still many legal differences between a domestic partnership and a marriage. The laws on domestic partnership are still in its infancy so the laws are liable to change at any time as courts interpret more and more of the recently passed laws. If you have any questions regarding your domestic partnership or marriage please contact our office as soon as possible.
In the Madison area call (608) 824-8540, in the Baraboo area (608) 356-3961, statewide call (866) 455-2993, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website at https://khtlawyers.com for more information. At Krueger Hernandez & Thompson SC, we listen, we care, we get results!