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Don Jacobs
Don Jacobs
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How much is a human life worth?

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If it is your own, or a member of your family, this question is easy. Priceless. There is no dollar value any of us would put on our own lives or the lives of our spouses or children. All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough. So what if you find yourself on a jury that has to decide this question? Someone carelessly causes the death of another on the highway. Maybe alcohol is involved. The result is a wasted human life with all the consequences the loss creates for the family. If you find yourself as a juror in a wrongful death lawsuit, you just might have to come up with a value. Some say putting a value on a catastrophic injury is even more difficult. Death has a finality that may be easier to grasp when it comes to determining a value. In determining fair damages for an injury, you have to take into consideration the victim’s lifespan and all the problems the injury will cause in the future. So how does one put a value on human life? It turns out the government has already done the appraisal. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the value is $5 million. The U.S. Department of Transportation just increased its estimate of value from $3 million to $5.8 million. The EPA just went the other way, marking down its estimate of value from $8 million to $7.22 million. Government entities need to put a value on human life so they can do a cost benefit analysis of any action they take. Requiring road safety features such as guardrails, proper slopes on curves and installation of those little yellow bumps between lanes to alert you if your car starts drifting over all increase the cost of a highway project, but they save lives. And apparently the cost isn’t so high the project can’t be built. Requiring all drivers stay under 10 miles per hour would also save countless lives, but it would come close to shutting down the economy. Not worth it. Every contemplated safety feature or safety regulation probably goes through this same cost benefit analysis. In order to see if the cost is worth it, they need to determine what the value of the lives saved would be. Hence the need to determine the value of an individual human life. Now our tort system requires that all cases be judged on their individual merits. In other words, every life has a different value. The jury has to come up with a reasonable and fair value each time they judge a case, whether it’s an injury or a death claim. There is no one size fits all. But it is interesting to learn the figures our government agencies determined.