What Is A Life Worth?

The Tennessee General Assembly has now placed arbitrary caps on damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases.  And the House of Representatives just passed HR 5, which placed a caps on damages in medical malpractice cases.

But how does the federal government value life when weighing regulatory burden?  The New York Times provides us these figures:

  • EPA - $9.1 million
  • FDA - $7.9 million
  • DOT - $6.0 million

The government looks to research from W. Kip Viscusi, a professor at Vanderbilt, for its numbers.  His paper on the subject, The Value of a Statistical Life: A Critical Review of Market Estimates Throughout the World, is fascinating.  He currently pegs the value of human life at $8.7 million.

His model is explained here:

The idea he and others have since developed in a long string of studies is that differences in wages show the value that workers place on avoiding the risk of death. Say that companies must pay lumberjacks an additional $1,000 a year to perform work that generally kills one in 1,000 workers. It follows that most Americans would forgo $1,000 a year to avoid that risk — and that 1,000 Americans will collectively forgo $1 million to avoid the same risk entirely. That number is said to be the “statistical value of life.”

There is no "value of life" analysis of any type conduct by the tort reformers.  Rather, their only goal is an arbitrary and low cap that will permit wrongdoers and their insurance companies to calculate the risk of misconduct in advance.

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