Hot Potato: Food for Thought
Accidental Death Awards 1997 October 08

In the best traditions of tort law, when a common carrier is involved in the death of a passenger, legal mechanisms are set into motion to determine the value of this lost life. Lawyers are the primary beneficiaries of this unseemly process.

It would be more dignified and also more economically efficient to set one amount that must be paid to the estate of any passenger killed by an accident involving a carrier's vehicle. This amount would be payable upon proof of death; no other legal formality would be required. The carrier, if it believes that a third party is responsible, can attempt to recover the amount from that party.

Rather than engaging in a repugnant discussion of the value of a life, society should set the payment for accidental death on a common carrier at a significant amount, say $1,000,000, indexed for inflation. This is sufficient to compensate the heirs for financial losses except in the case of people whose earnings are very high. The families of such people should in any case able to cope with the financial losses. No amount of money helps to heal the pain of the loss.

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