Value of Human Life

In a wrongful death case the jury is required to place a monetary value on human life. This post discusses different ways our society places a value on a human life:

Bush Administration Value. In 2008 the Bush Administration placed a value of  $6.9 million on a human life. This was $.9 million less then the value placed on a human life by the administration five years before. The administration places a value on a human life for purposes of EPA regulation. Put simply when determining whether to regulate the total cost of the regulation is weighed against the total cost of lives saved by the regulation. When the cost exceeds the number of lives saved times $6.9 million the regulation is too expensive.

BP Spill Value. The Wall Street Journal reports death settlements in the BP Deepwater Horizan oil rig explosion are in the $8 million to $9 million range. “The companies are eager to settle the cases and avoid widely publicized trials… .” WSJ March 30 2011 at A5. As reported by the Journal the settlement range is higher then what is seen in most wrongful death settlements because of the sensational in the news nature of the wrong that led to the tragic deaths.

Medical Insurance Companies. Medical insurance companies place a value on one quality year of human life to determine whether to cover a medical procedure. They typically place a value of $50,000 on one quality year of life. They use this formula to determine if a new medical procedure will be covered. $50,000 seems low. A Stanford economist calculates the amount should be $129,000 for the value of one quality year of life.

Same or Different Value. Kenneth Feinberg  a New York attorney was dealt the task of assigning wrongful death amounts for people killed in New York in the 911 terrorist attack. He used typical legal standards such as age and earning power to assign value. This meant a successful stock broker’s family received more then the family of a fireman because of the difference in earnings. Feinberg states he became troubled with assigning different values and came to the conclusion that all lives are worth the same. Later when he was dealt the task of assigning life values to those killed in the Virginia Tech shootings he treated all lives the same regardless of age and earning power and compensated all families in the same amount.

Jury Instruction. In a wrongful case in Washington the jury is instructed to compensate for loss of love, care, companionship, and guidance. These are the elements of general damages for the emotional loss of a parent or child. The financial loss is determined in the “survival action.” It is up to the lawyer to suggest to the jury what the value of the life is. The lawyer is guided by his experience in wrongful death cases, by prior jury results, and by the facts of his case. Although the value is priceless, the jury will set a value. The lawyer has the difficult job of calculating the value of life in his case. It is my hope this post provides some assistance.


    One Response to “Value of Human Life”

    1. Vic Comp says:

      Entertaining story, im pumped that I had a chance to read this. I’ll make sure to tell lots of readers about your ideas.

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