Life’s Worth

What is a life worth?  Ask the families of the astronauts who perished aboard the space shuttle Columbia.  This is a very difficult question to answer when injury and death occur as a result of another person’s or company’s fault, but it is the only method we have for legal redress.  Obviously, we cannot bring people back or put individuals back to the position they were in before an accident so money compensation is all we have.

According to the Associated Press, $26.6 million was paid to the families of the astronauts, but this amount was not divided equally.  Jon Clark, the husband of astronaut Laurel Clark, was quoted as saying, “We had to prove our loved ones were worth something.”  Apparently, those astronauts with doctoral degress received a little more than those with masters degrees.  Should that matter when we are discussing human life?  Is a garbage collector worth less than a physician?  As far as income, yes.  However, a garbage collector may mean more to his family than the doctor.

None of that matters in Alabama because our wrongful death law is different from all other forty-nine (49) states.  In Alabama, the victim’s family can only claim punitive (punishment) damages for wrongful death.  Consequently, future income is irrelevant in a wrongful death claim in Alabama.  Does that make sense?  No, but that’s Alabama for you.

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