The Value of a Life

Quote of the Day     “Price is what you pay.  Value is what you get.”     –Warren Buffett

For three days last week and this, TB was involved in settlement negotiations over the death of a 93 year old lady at the hands of a construction company truck driver who was unable to control his vehicle due to excessive speed.  The driver braked as soon as he saw her, skidded the length of a football field, began to drift, and killed this lady who made it six inches off the road and into her driveway, but needed another couple of feet to get clear.  The company and their insurer were clearly liable.  

I can’t reveal the amount of money that was at stake.  But I can say a couple of things without violating the confidential terms.  First, though I was well aware of the “value” of these cases–to be distinguished from the value of her life–it was depressing and even shocking to hear the other side articulate their position.  I read recently that the EPA was being criticized for lowering their calculation of the value of a life to 6.7 million dollars.  It was around 8 million at the end of the Clinton Presidency. They had earlier tried to assign a discount to people over age 72, but retreated from that position due to numerous objections.  I can tell you the value of a person who has been killed is much less than that in a civil lawsuit in Mississippi, and for a senior citizen it is a fraction of that amount.  In fact, our state has seen fit, at the behest of insurance companies and ill informed, misguided and/or corrupted supporters to cap the value of such a case.  I don’t know how to put a dollar value on any person’s life, at any age.  I do believe when someone is needlessly and recklessly killed, the negligent party should have to face the question in court.  

Here’s something I’d like someone to explain to me:  If a maximum damage cap makes things more fair in some people’s opinions by preventing “jackpot justice” or a “runaway jury”, shouldn’t there also be a minimum dollar amount a life is worth?

About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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3 Responses to The Value of a Life

  1. Jessie Lou says:

    Of course, working in a Plaintiff’s firm, I am in total agreement with you. Most of those who want a cap have never had the need for an attorney and choose to slam the legal profession. Those opinions change in a hurry once that person is wronged in some fashion. I saw that after Katrina when some beach front folks were forced to hire an attorney to get what they thought was rightfully theirs to begin with. There is no way to put a value on human life because love is infinite which makes it hard to put a dollar figure on it. I’ll be interested to see what others think.

  2. JD Preston says:

    The value of life is an interesting philosophical topic. As the owner of insurance agencies in 14 states I have seen numerous occasions wherein insurance companies have made compelling (And sad) arguments aimed at DE-valuing the life of someone when their client has been found responsible for a death. On one hand there is no doubt the offending party should be held accountable. On the other hand, insurance companies are simply redistributing money collected from their policy holders (The regular people) which ultimately result in higher premiums for everyone. So, who really pays?

  3. JD, I appreciate your perspective and thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I hear the argument quite often that it’s policy holders who ultimately pay when a lawsuit is filed, and there’s a bit of truth to that. But it’s also true that insurance companies make enormous profits, and that the profits as they relate to premiums have increased substantially in the last ten years or so. I think the cost to the consumer is much more affected by the companies’ drives for greater and greater profit then by paying lawsuit claims. Especially since those claims are precisely the reason the policies are bought in the first place.

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