This is a motion for summary judgment made by defendant, McKesson Corporation*fn1 to dismiss all claims asserted by plaintiff, Barbara Sykes, individually and in her own behalf.
The issue is whether a "purported wife" may recover damages either for loss of consortium or for decedent's alleged wrongful death when she was never his lawful spouse.
The court holds that she cannot recover (1) for loss of consortium because there was no marriage relationship; or (2) for her death claims because she falls outside any applicable classification under N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4 et seq.
Plaintiff, Barbara Sykes commenced this action for damages for personal injuries and wrongful death sustained by her decedent, William Sykes. Mr. Sykes was allegedly injured while working for McKesson Envirosystems Company (a former defendant whose case was dismissed). His death allegedly resulted from the injury he sustained.
While Barbara Sykes sues as "the Administratrix ad Prosequendum and General Administratrix of the Estate of William Sykes," she also demands judgment for damages as a plaintiff "individually." She seeks these damages individually as "the purported wife of the decedent" for having been "deprived of the services and consortium of the decedent between the dates of October 10, 1982 and November 5, 1982." She also seeks recovery under the Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 et seq., as surviving -- "next of kin" and "purported wife" of decedent.
Barbara Sykes and William Sykes held themselves out as married, but were never married in a formal or religious ceremony; they owned certain property in common as "husband and wife"; they resided together and lived as husband and wife; Barbara Sykes bore four children to William Sykes and they and their offspring resided together; Barbara Sykes was named as spouse and beneficiary on a policy of insurance of William Sykes; Barbara Sykes was dependent on William Sykes. Barbara Sykes and William Sykes had lived together for 24 years since Barbara Sykes was 18-years-old. Barbara Sykes gave birth to William Sykes' namesake, William Lewis Sykes, Jr., and one of their three daughters was named after Barbara Sykes and Barbara Sykes' sister, Ann. All of the children in common were given the surname "Sykes," as is the usual practice in the case of children born in wedlock.
However, Barbara Sykes did not list herself as a spouse, heir or next of kin in her complaint for administration filed in the Surrogate's Court. Only the four children were listed as next of kin and plaintiff swore that there were "no other heirs or next of kin known to the plaintiff." Decedent William Sykes was also described as "single -- never married." Notwithstanding those sworn representations, plaintiff proceeded to allege in this action, brought pursuant to letters of administration issued to her, that she was "next of kin" and "purported wife" of William Sykes.
Although they were never married, plaintiff Barbara Sykes seeks money damages for loss of consortium, society, care and comfort, personal services and companionship arising out of the injuries and eventual death of William Sykes.
In New Jersey an unwed companion or live-in cohabitant has no right to recover damages for alleged loss of consortium or as a claimant under the Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 et seq.
Claims for loss of consortium have been defined as follows:
A wife is entitled to the services of her husband in attending to his household duties, to his companionship and comfort and to his consortium, that is, marital relations with him. She is entitled to fair and reasonable compensation for any loss or impairment of her husband's services, society or consortium because of injuries sustained by him as a proximate result of defendant's wrongdoing. [ Zalewski v. Gallagher, 150 N.J. Super. 360, 372 (App.Div.1977) (citing Ekalo v. Constructive Service Corp., of America, 46 N.J. 82 (1965))].
In New Jersey, a claim for loss of consortium must be founded upon the marriage relation. Leonardis v. Morton Chemical Co., 184 N.J. Super. 10 (App.Div.1982); Childers v. Shannon, 183 N.J. Super. 591 (Law Div.1982) (marriage at time of injury is a prerequisite and affianced status is not a sufficient relationship). There is no right to recovery where there was no formal marriage. Id. at 595. Compare Stahl v. Nugent, 212 N.J. Super. 340 (Law Div.1986), where the court held that when plaintiffs were engaged to be married at the time of the injury, and did in fact marry shortly thereafter, any proved loss of consortium which the newlywed husband sustained from the date of the marriage should not be barred. It was not a case in which a relationship other than marriage was offered as the basis for a claim of loss of consortium. Looking principally to Mead v. Baum, 76 N.J.L. 337 (Sup.Ct.1908), the court concluded that "any proved loss of consortium which the newlywed husband sustained from the date of the marriage should not be barred by a legal catch-phrase." 212 N.J. Super. at 341. Even there, the court would only permit the claim to postdate the actual marriage. In the instant case, however, plaintiff seeks a further doctrinal extension. There ...