By: Darrell Castle
Usually when a person dies in a medical malpractice case, the insurance company (or the jury, if the case goes to trial) try to determine the “life value.”
“Life value” is a pretty cold phrase: it’s the technical term for determining how much a life is worth, and it’s determined as a mathematical equation by special companies with actuarial tables.
Hypothetically, if the malpractice victim was a 27-year-old brain surgeon and mother of 2 children, the life value would be considered very high: She had a long life ahead of her, with a family depending on her for emotional and financial support. She had a high income and was responsible for helping a lot of people.
But what if the victim was 68 years old, had a terminal illness, and was retired with no family? Well, then the insurance company starts lowering its offer.
That’s when a jury sometimes comes in. In situations like this, it’s not hard to help a jury understand: yes, this person already had a terminal illness. Yes, perhaps she only had 8 months to live.
But a doctor’s critical error ultimately stole those last 8 months from her.
“If that were you,” we must ask the jury, “how would you want to spend those last 8 months? Who would you want to see? Where would you want to go?”
In my opinion, everyone’s life matters a lot – even and especially if they only have a little longer to enjoy that life. I know, it’s crazy anyone would disagree with me, but I’ve seen many companies claim that terminally ill patients shouldn’t expect the same respect toward their life as that of young, vibrant people.
“Life value” will probably always play a part in medical malpractice; but it doesn’t have to determine everything about the final damages. These are tough cases, but that’s where lawyers like me can help.
We’ll all be old someday. I’m well on my way there. When dealing with terminally ill victims of medical malpractice, we’d be wise to remember how we hope to be treated near the end of our lives.
In my case, I hope for respect, compassion, and quality care. And that’s the least I expect for my clients and their families, too.