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Life is priceless and putting a value on it is difficult to do. However, when dealing with a wrongful death lawsuit a value must be placed on the loss of life in order to reach a verdict. So how is the value of a life determined? In personal injury case: by a jury.

According to many government agencies a life is worth anywhere from the EPA at $9.1 million for a life to the FDA who puts the value of a life at $7.9 Million.  Harvard Studies put a statistical life value at $8.7 million.  The Value of a Statistical Life: A Critical Review of Market Estimates Throughout the World  These values are reached by analyzing the value of the trade-off between money and fatality risks.  For example, the government imposed stricter safety standard for roof construction, this was estimated to save 135 lives and hundreds of injuries avoided.  The cost in putting these safety standard in is one basis for estimating the value of a life.

The following estimates have been applied to the value of life. The estimates are either for one year of additional life or for the statistical value of a single life.

  • Value of life per year:
    • $50,000 per year of quality life (international standard most private and government-run health insurance plans worldwide use to determine whether to cover a new medical procedure) [5]
    • $129,000 per year of quality life (based on analysis of kidney dialysis procedures by Stefanos Zenios and colleagues at Stanford Graduate School of Business)[5]
  • Value of life overall:
    • $9.1 million (Environmental Protection Agency, 2010)[6]
    • $7.9 million (Food and Drug Administration, 2010)[6]
    • $9.4 million (Transportation Department, 2015)[7]
    • $9.1 million (Prof. W. Kip Viscusi, Vanderbilt University, 2013)

So what does a jury need to consider?

In a Missouri wrongful death lawsuit, a jury is told by the judge to determine the value of the life by Missouri Jury Instruction 5.01 (MAI 5.01)

“If you find in favor of plaintiff, then you must award plaintiff such sum as you believe will fairly and justly compensate plaintiff for any damages you believe plaintiff sustained and is reasonably certain to sustain in the future  as a direct result of the fatal injury to (insert name of decedent).

You must not consider grief or bereavement suffered by reason of the death.”

That is a very broad standard, so a personal injury lawyer must make it clear to a jury the amount of money sought and the basis for that amount. Jury should consider lost wages of the decedent, both past and future.  Any medical bills of funeral bills incurred.  Most importantly, the pain and suffering of the surviving family members. This includes everyhtogn form loss of financial support to loss of emotional support and guidance from that individual.

Lets take for example a teenage girl whose father is killed.  Obvious and easy to show, that girl has lost the financial support of her father.  But the real damage is the loss of a father while growing up and for the rest of her life.  No father to be there at graduation, no father to walk her down the isle at her wedding, no father to be there for her kids, etc…

It is quickly obvious that the loss of a life (such as a loss of a father is priceless to a daughter).  But in our system a dollar amount needs to be put on that life.  Outside of lost wages, the above “statistical life” amounts formed by the government and by Harvard professors is a good start. What is the trade-off between money and fatality risks?

If you have lost a family member or loved on, call a wrongful death lawyer for a free consultation at (314) 863-0500 or contact us online. 

 

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