Demonstrating The Intangible Value Of Life

In a wrongful death case, a jury will be instructed that they should return a verdict for the “full value of the life of the decedent.” This means not only any economic damages caused by a premature and wrongful death, but also “non-economic damages.” How is this calculated and how should jury be instructed to reach such an award? Interestingly enough, the jury will be instructed that they should rely upon their “enlightened conscious” in making such determinations.
If a 28-year old is killed and has a life expectancy of 46 years, as an example, one way to argue for the loss of the “intangible value” of life itself is to urge the jury to make an award based on each lost year of life. If, for example, the jury should determine that the value of life in Georgia for a 28-year old looking forward to his or her future is $100,000.00 per year, then the damages would be 46 years X $100,000.00 or $4.6 million. Is $4.6 million an adequate award for the loss of human life for an otherwise healthy 28-year old whose life is abruptly and wrongfully ended due to the negligence of a third party? Obviously, reasonable minds could differ over the sum to be awarded in such a case. Should it be $150,000/yr., $200,000/yr or some lesser sum?
Baseball players are sometimes paid 10, 20, 30 million dollars a year. Good basketball players can make hundreds of millions of dollars. Is one year of labor in the NFL worth 46 years of the value of a average man’s life? These are the kinds of debates juries have to engage in when determining “the full value of the life of the decedent.” Again, the intangible value of life itself is probably the most difficult aspect of the calculus in these cases, but nonetheless, the intangible value of life is worth far more than is the economic loss caused by a wrongful death. Yes, the wrongful death results in a loss of income and yes, the loss of income is part of the measure of damages, but the intangible value is the greater value and thus the greater difficulty for any jury.

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