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What's the Value of a Life

Posted by Dev Sethi | Nov 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

Arizona wrongful death claims are authorized by ARS 12-612. The jury is given broad discretion in deciding the appropriate measure of damages.  The statute provides some guidance, "The jury shall give such damages as it deems fair and just...."  Beyond that, it's left to the jury's wisdom.  Case law fills in some contours:

“In an action for wrongful death, the jury shall give such damages as it deems fair and just with reference to the injury resulting from the death to the surviving parties who may be entitled to recover, and also having regard to the mitigating or aggravating circumstances attending the wrongful act, neglect, or default.” A.R.S. §12-613.  RAJI 3, in concert with common law, focuses the jury's inquiry.  See, Girouard v. Skyline Steel, Inc., 215 Ariz. 126, 130, ¶ 15, 158 P.3d 255, 259 (App. 2007). 

Wrongful death damages encompass loss of companionship, comfort, and emotional suffering caused by the loss of the decedent. Walsh v. Advanced Cardiac Specialists Chartered, 229 Ariz. 193, 196, ¶ 8, 273 P.3d 645, 649 (2012). The damages are assessed by determining what the decedent's “death means from the standpoint of the survivor who must be compensated.” Girouard, supra.

In resolving a wrongful death dispute, the amount of damages is a question particularly within the province of the jury.  Ritchie v. Krasner, 221 Ariz. 288, 300, 211 P.3d 1272, 1284, ¶36 (App. 2009); Ahmad v. State, 240 Ariz. 380, 383-385, 379 P.3d 1011, 1014-1016, ¶¶11-18 (App. 2016).

Beyond this framework, there is really no objective measure to guide the jury.  

Economists, on the other hand, have developed a well-recognized, objective method of valuing a "Statistical Human Life," and in a recently published paper, they put the current value at $10,000,000.  

The value of a statistical life is the trade-off between fatality risk and death.  This trade-off analysis doesn't guide jurors, but it is a metric used by policy makers to evaluate the public's willingness to pay for risk reduction and the marginal cost of enhancing safety.  

About the Author

Dev Sethi

Dev Sethi litigates and tries a wide-range of complex injury and death cases throughout Arizona. He has Martindale Hubbell's highest rating, AV, and he is listed in "Best Lawyers." Dev is also recognized as an Arizona Super Lawyer in the area of plaintiff's products liability litigation.Dev has been at the forefront of auto product defect litigation. He played a key role in uncovering the Goodyear Load Range E tire scandal and worked to hold Ford Motor Company responsible for the danger posed by their now notorious 15-passenger vans. Dev is currently representing families in product liability suits against the nation's largest corporations including General Motors, Ford, Pentair Pools and Invacare.


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Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian

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