I was in Starbucks this morning, discussing with my fellow Starbucks aficionados the idea of awarding money to compensate for a negligence victim’s pain and suffering. The people I was talking with are the type of people I might find on a jury one day, so I wanted to pick their brains. I framed the question in terms of a wrongful death claim. How do you feel about awarding money for the pain and suffering of the surviving family members of a person who was wrongfully injured?
All three of my companions seemed to agree that awarding money for lost wages, medical bills, and funeral expenses makes sense. However, they all disagreed with the concept of awarding money to make up for the survivors’ lost companionship and the mental and emotional anguish caused by the wrongful death.
One of my companions said, “If I die due to somebody’s negligence, why should my wife profit from my death.” My response to that was that even if your wife got millions of dollars, she would not be profiting, because she would likely give up every penny of those millions to have you back. To her, she still loses, because she lost the love of her life. The money compensates her for her loss to the greatest extent possible, but it doesn’t make the loss go away.
In a court of law, we can’t bring somebody back from the dead, but we can try to make up for the loss to the greatest extent possible through financial compensation. As a fellow trial attorney told me recently, we don’t have “eye for an eye” justice in this country, because we like to think of ourselves as civilized.
In this country, if somebody injures us carelessly, we go to civil court, and we try to make up for a loss with money as the remedy. It might not be perfect, but it’s the best we have come up with as a civilized society, and if justice is going to occur, we need to use what we have to deliver justice when we can.