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Arpin v. United States

November 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge


I. Introduction and Background

This matter comes before the Court on remand from the Seventh Circuit in order to redetermine the loss of consortium damages awarded by this Court. See Arpin v. United States, 521 F.3d 769, 776 (7th Cir. 2008). On November 11, 2006, this Court found Defendants United States of America and St. Louis University joint and severally liable on Plaintiff's wrongful death claim for the death of the decedent Ronald Arpin. This Court awarded Plaintiff an award of damages totaling $8,265,009.27, representing $158,661.31 in medical expenses, $2,207.96 in funeral expenses, $354,140 in lost wages, $750,000 in pain and suffering, as well as $7,000,000 for loss of consortium. The $7 million awarded to plaintiff for loss of consortium damages was broken down into an award of $4 million to Plaintiff Jeannine Arpin, the decedent's wife, and $750,000 to each of Ronald Arpin's four children. Both Defendants United States of America and St. Louis University appealed the judgment as to the finding of liability and loss of consortium award. The Seventh Circuit upheld the Court's finding as to the issue of liability, but vacated the Court's award of $7 million for loss of consortium and remanded the case back to this Court to determine a proper award for loss of consortium damages or to, at the very least, provide a reasoned, articulated explanation for the grounds of the award.*fn1

In remanding the matter back to this Court, the Seventh Circuit provided some guidance, although refrained from going so far as to prescribe an actual method, for determining an appropriate award for loss of consortium. The Court should start off with the law of this case as has been presented by the Seventh Circuit and then consider similar cases, both in Illinois and elsewhere. The Seventh Circuit, suggested, without absolutely prescribing, a ratio approach to calculating damages for loss of consortium. In doing so, the Court should examine the average ratio in wrongful-death cases in which the award of such damages was upheld on appeal. Next, the Court should consider special factors, such as closeness of the spouse and children to the decedent and whether the children of the decedent were minors or adults. The suggestion, in the precedential case at bar, being that the adulthood of the children would be a downward adjustment, while the closeness of the children would be an upward adjustment. With this guidance in mind, the Court will analyze the case law with the facts of this case in order to determine the proper award for loss of consortium.

II. Analysis

In response to the Seventh Circuit's remand of this matter for further proceedings regarding the loss of consortium damages, the Court directed all three parties to submit briefs on the issue remanded by the Seventh Circuit so that the parties could provide their research on "awards in similar cases." (Docs. 69, 70, 81, 83, 84, 85, 89, & 90). All three parties submitted briefs with a number of cases as supposed exemplars of what they believed addressed the type of cases that the Circuit Court opinion discussed. However, instead of responding to the type of cases suggested by the Circuit Court opinion, the parties submitted cases that were either wholly dissimilar or not upheld on appeal. In the initial submissions by all of the parties, it was clear that the parties only sought to provide cases that, when averaged, upheld their image of what a ratio should look like. The Plaintiff's reply ultimately provided cases that met the test of similar and upheld on appeal, although many of the cases cited by Plaintiff still did not involve wrongful death awards to adult children. What this Court then received as the parties tried to respond to the Circuit Court's directive, even though the opinion clearly stated the approach was "suggested (without meaning to prescribe)," was a hodge-podge of cases that had little or no resemblance to the case at bar. Not only is the Court asked, by these parties, to compare ratios that are far afield from one another so that an average is meaningless, but the facts of the cases are meaningless as well.

As a consequence of the response of the parties, the Court has done an exhaustive examination of the reported cases in an effort to find similar cases that have been upheld on appeal. To establish for the record what the trial court deems to be similar, the Court considered a wrongful death case, the decedent being the primary bread winner of the family, leaving a spouse and more than one child (trying to match as close as possible to four children, although not restricting the cases to that number, and attempting to find as many adult children as possible among the surviving children, though not restricting the criteria to only adult children). While the Plaintiff also submitted cases involving the wrongful death of children on the theory that those cases produced evidence of little or no compensatory damages to reduce as much as possible that side of the ratio, it also had the effect of restricting the number of beneficiaries to two, consequently limiting the loss of consortium side of the ratio. This, one could argue, makes for a conservative example, but one could also argue for a large jury appeal when the decedent is a child, a factor not present at bar and, arguably, taking those cases out of the similar category for purposes of comparison.

After an exhaustive research on the part of this Court, there is only one case that has a family that is even close to the make-up of the family that is in this litigation. Even still, that case did not have the same kind of evidence about which this Court found to be present in this case. The award of damages in that case was very similar to the award in this case. See Barry v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp., 282 Ill.App.3d 199 (1st Dist. 1996).

This Judge in re-reading his own order readily admits his failure to repeat the findings he placed in the factual portion of the order in the conclusions of law so that the reviewing court could understand his reasoning for his loss of consortium award. The Circuit Court opinion stated: "All the judge said in explanation of his award of these amounts was that 'it is difficult to put a value on something that is priceless. Mrs. Arpin is far more dependent on her husband than are her children. Her children have suffered the loss of a father that is great and the devastation to this family is immeasurable.'" Arpin, 521 F.3d at 776. In repeating what was in the previous order, this is what the undersigned was relying on in determining an appropriate award for consortium damages. While this Judge only recited the following in the findings of fact and failed to repeat in the conclusions of law portion of the order, the undersigned now recites here to make clear that his damages analysis takes the following into account.

This Court has not seen a family as close or cohesive as the Arpin family. Nor has the Court seen a family as dependent on one member as the Arpin family was on the patriarch, Ronald Arpin.

Ronald Arpin left a wife and four grown children.

Jeannine Arpin does not drive. She did not work outside the home. She was a traditional American housewife. She took care of the cooking and cleaning in the house and Ronald was the man of the house. He was the breadwinner and provided warmth and security for her and the children. Everyone knew he was there, always would be and all would be okay with the world as long as he was. Because she did not drive, she counted on him to take her places to get things for the house, groceries and the like. He worked the evening shift so he could take care of things during the day and eat supper with the kids before he left for work.

Every night when her husband came home from work at 1:00 a.m., Jeannine Arpin laid out her husband's bath towel, wash cloth, soap and pajamas. She continued to do so many months after his death because even though she knew he couldn't come home, she knew "he would if he could." In the old days, when the kids were in school, he always got up and got them off to school.

For a time, Mrs. Arpin lost her health insurance and it wasn't until very recently when she was qualified for some military benefit by virtue of her husband's exposure to agent ...

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