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Pricing the Priceless: What Is the Cost of a Human Life?


What is your life worth in dollars? Our innate moral sensibilities cause us to retract at the thought of putting a price tag on a human life. After all, isn’t life more than just money? Unfortunately, there have been many instances where human life was appraised to an approximate dollar value.

During the 1970s, the Ford Motor Company was developing a new car: the Ford Pinto. Between 1973 and 1974, accidents, where another car crashed into a Pinto’s back-end, revealed that the car’s fuel tank was dangerously vulnerable to combustion. As a result, rear-end collisions with the Pinto would result in passengers burning alive.

An internal memo revealing the morbid calculus Ford’s senior managers performed when weighing the costs and benefits of recalling defective cars was eventually discovered.

According to the memo, the cost of securing a safer fuel tank would have cost Ford $11 per Pinto. Given that Ford would have to recall 11 million Pintos to implement the fuel tank modification, they calculated their total recall cost to be $121 million.

In contrast, Ford figured that 2,100 accidents would result in 180 burn deaths. They then determined that out of court settlements would amount to $200,000 for each life lost, $67,000 per serious injury, and $700 for each lost vehicle. As a result, the cost of not addressing the defective fuel tanks would amount to $49.53 million.

Therefore, Ford concluded that ignoring the Pinto’s fuel tank defect would yield a $70 million savings against instituting a recall.

Government Estimates

In the 1980s, the federal government allowed states to increase the maximum speed limit from 55 to 65. The result was that drivers shaved time off their commute, but fatalities increased by a third. Americans saved approximately 125,000 commuting hours per death. Based on the average wages at the time, and factoring the loss of life and the time that was saved, government officials appeared to value a human life at roughly $1.5 million.

Wrongful Death Damages

Courts regularly deal with assigning a monetary value to a person’s life. In wrongful death cases, the surviving members of the deceased’s closest family receive a monetary award to compensate them for the lost financial support and services caused by their loved one’s death. The deceased’s level of income is also factored along with their anticipated life expectancy when calculating damages.

Furthermore, spouses can collect damages that represent lost companionship. Children are entitled to collect damages for the lost wisdom and guidance of their deceased parent. However, since children do not earn a stable income, their death is worth less than that of a parent for the purposes of calculating wrongful death damages.

However, the aim of wrongful death damages isn’t to value the decedent’s life. Instead, wrongful death damages are meant to provide economic relief for the decedent’s surviving loved ones regarding the resulting financial hardship caused by the decedent’s untimely demise.

You Bet Your Life Every Day

To a certain extent, each of us performs a subconscious risk analysis when it comes to almost every decision we make. However, most of us conclude that the benefits of leaving the house, crossing streets, eating fatty foods, and riding motorcycles outweigh the risks associated with those activities.

Moreover, many of our peers join the military or otherwise work in occupations where their lives are under constant threat. At some fundamental level, they determined that risking their life is worth the paycheck. As humans, we automatically weigh the risks and benefits of all our actions. If we didn’t, we would be lunging haphazardly toward extinction.

Economics is a function of scarcity, and our time – like money – isn’t infinite. Accepting this fact doesn’t reduce life to a cold statistic – it reveals how rare and precious living ultimately is.

Call a Compassionate Daytona Beach Wrongful Death Attorney Today

If you are dealing with the untimely passing of a loved one, you should speak with a Daytona Beach wrongful death attorney about your legal rights. At Politis & Matovina, P.A., we have years of experience handling personal injury matters including wrongful death cases. No amount of money can replace your loved one. However, you should not have to endure the emotional loss while dealing with the stress brought on by your loved one’s tragic demise. Pursuing the at-fault party for monetary compensation regarding your loved one’s death can give you the financial support you need to focus on grieving the loss of their life rather than worrying about what's to come.

For more information on how our motorcycle injury lawyers can help you, call Politis & Matovina, P.A. at (386) 333-6613 for a free consultation.