“No Reservations” Illustrates Emotional Damages

The other night, I saw the movie “No Reservations” with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart.  This was a wonderful movie about the culinary arts, but even more so, this was a movie about great loss, life adjustments, and love.  The movie reminded me why “pain and suffering”, “mental anguish”, and “emotional distress” are significant elements of damages for a family that loses a loved one as a result of the negligence, wantonness, or intentional acts of another.

In the movie, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ sister dies in a car accident, and Catherine Zeta-Jones becomes the guardian for her niece.  Catherine must totally revamp her lifestyle in order to care for her niece.  She has to change her work schedule, hire babysitters, get her niece to school, and all of this must be accomplished while she herself must mourn for the loss of her sister.  In the same breadth, we see the niece suffer through the significant emotional loss of her mother. 

While accidents happen, our tort system is intended to allow for compensation for these types of losses and damages.  Of course, money cannot bring back the mother and sister of these movie characters, but it is the only way to compensate these individuals, and given the significant life changes and emotional losses, money allows them to have one less worry.  Money allows people to move through the suffering and adjust to the unexpected situation.

This movie shows us why Alabama’s wrongful death statute is so ridiculous and inadequate.  In Alabama, the only damages recoverable under the wrongful death act are punitive damages, i.e.:  damages to punish the wrongdoer.  All of the other 49 states allow for compensatory damages for the decedent’s family.  In a case were the wrongdoer did not intend to kill the victim, it is difficult to convince a jury the wrongdoer should be punished.  Why should this be the case?  Are the other 49 states wrong?  If a person is not paying attention, runs a red light, and kills another person, it’s hard to get a jury to punish them, but shouldn’t the family be entitled to compensation nevertheless?

When death occurs as a result of another’s mistake, lives are affected.  Compensation allows for those whose lives are affected to make it through a very difficult time.  It’s time our State realized what the others realized long ago.

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