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How Much Are We Worth?


I was sitting in the break-room yesterday perusing an old newspaper (old, meaning, earlier than Monday’s edition) and came across an article follow-up to a fatal crash story involving a bus transporting senior men to a sporting event and a tractor trailer.

In the initial story, it related the events of the crash… how the driver was charged with negligence (among other things) for crossing in front of the 18-wheeler, causing the accident, which left multiple people injured and one man dead.

In the follow-up story, we were informed that many of the victims’ families were filing lawsuits against the driver. Mainly elderly wives, seeking “wrongful injury/death” claims for their husbands.

The first woman mentioned in the article, the widow, was suing for $4 million (I think)… $2 million to cover his medical and funeral expenses, and the loss of his income.

The additional $2 million was a bit more abstract… it listed the oft used “pain and conscious suffering” of her husband, as well as her own emotional pain and suffering at his passing; it also listed characteristics of their relationship (love, compassion, support, guidance, companionship, etc. etc.) that required “compensation”…

I read further, and another woman (whose husband is, thankfully, still alive) is suing (he’s petitioning also) for a few million: for pain, suffering, yadda yadda… PLUS the loss of their marital relations and marital “closeness”, as well as the “love, support, companionship” angle. I figure he was either physically unable to perform in bed as a result of his injuries, or else they got divorced afterward. (It didn’t specify)

Considering these men were all “seniors” in their 60’s and 70’s, supposedly, I was surprised the issue of “loss of marital relations” was even an issue. I know I’m being pessimistic, but really… the whole thing absolutely blows my mind.  I can understand the various tangible expenses… something you can financially record, and provide bills and statements for proof… being reimbursable.

But how do you put a price tag on someone’s companionship??

I’m not trying to sound cold-hearted; I’m not saying that these women don’t deserve “something” for their loss. One would hope that their family, friends, and community would rally around them, and give the support, guidance, compassion, and so forth that they need… but perhaps they live in a society that no longer cares about their neighbors.

However, I question two things: First of all, how do lawyers come up with justifiable numbers for priceless, abstract concepts? And secondly, why are some people worth more than others?
(I did a bit more online research of lawsuit articles, and found multiple cases of widows, or family, suing for similar losses, varying from $10 million, $40 million, $100 million, and upwards)

When you wake up one morning and decide to file suit over the loss of your spouse, does your attorney provide you with a checklist?

1. Was he/she compassionate towards you? yes/no
2. Did he/she provide you with financial, emotional, spiritual advice? yes/no
3. Did he/she speak or show their love for you regularly? yes/no

Are you required to provide examples for the record? Do you rate his “level of compassion” on a scale??  Is that how lawyers determine that one man’s “love and guidance” is worth $10 million, and the man sitting across from him is worth $40 million?

“Why is her late husband worth more than mine?”
“Well, ma’am, you rated your satisfaction with his marital relations as a (4 out of 10), and Mrs. Smith rated her husband a six. That’s a $2.5 million increase in losses”

*as his fingers fly furiously over the adding machine*

I think the entire idea of claiming money for the loss of someone’s company is unthinkably degrading to that person’s memory. You’re basically being reimbursed for their life.   You might as well walk into your local retailer, stand in line at Customer Service, and demand a refund for your husband.
“He’s irreparably defective or broken, and I want my money back”
“Do you have a receipt for him, ma’am?”

(you hand it over)
“Ah, yes, you purchased him 10 years ago, with a lifetime warranty (plus insurance against fire, theft, and accidental death)… you put him on your credit card… would you like the $4 million credited to your Visa?”

I would be devastated if anything happened to Joe. It’s entirely possible that I may lose him, either to health problems in the future (he’s turning 50 this Friday! :), an accident, or some violence at his workplace… after all, security personnel aren’t exactly the darlings of the retail world, and some of those drug-crazed, serial shoplifters carry weapons these days.
I can put myself in the place of these women, although I’d hate to imagine it, and understand that the shock and loss must be terrible.

But will money help them? It’ll pay their bills, and keep them financially secure – hopefully $4-10 million can keep an elderly woman in comfort – but it won’t bring back the breakfasts in bed, or the coffee and newspaper “good mornings”, and it won’t bring back their compassion and concern. If these women have no neighbors or family to rely on, do they expect to PAY someone to embrace them when they need it?

On the way home from the baby-sitter’s, I heard a commercial for the local Hospice center on the radio.  The musical score was upbeat and peppy (the theme was “embrace life” or something like that), and the “wife” was relating how her husband “died in peace and comfort” in his own home, surrounded by family and professional caregivers…

What seemed odd about the advertisement, was how happy the actress’ voice sounded: she described her husband’s “peaceful death” as if she were selling Serta mattresses for a restful sleep.  There wasn’t a hint of grief. And the lively, cheerful music was annoying. I understand they want people to think Hospice will make your last days better, and I’m sure they help, but dying isn’t usually a bright, happy occasion for anyone. The commercial didn’t work for me.

But perhaps the wife had just won her lawsuit.

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