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78 Geo. L. J. 1687 (1989-1990)
Hedonic Damages for Wrongful Death: Are Tortfeasors Getting Away with Murder

handle is hein.journals/glj78 and id is 1713 raw text is: NOTES
Hedonic Damages For Wrongful Death: Are
Tortfeasors Getting Away With Murder?
An airplane taking off from Big City Airport suddenly explodes, instantly
killing all of the passengers and crew. The explosion is a clear result of negli-
gence by Aerodynamic Engines, the manufacturer of the airplane's engines.
One of the passengers killed is John Doe, an unemployable man who leaves
behind no wife or dependents. He endured no pain and suffering, incurred
no medical expenses, and lost no wages as a result of the accident. Neverthe-
less, John did lose something when he died; he lost his ability to enjoy life.
John loved to interact with all people, revelled in classical music, and eagerly
awoke in the morning to watch the sun rise and hear robins chirp. Should
Aerodynamic Engines be held financially liable for depriving John Doe of the
enjoyment of living? If so, how should the courts quantify the loss that re-
sulted from his untimely death?
Virtually every court in the United States would absolve Aerodynamic En-
gines of any financial liability,1 even though it clearly committed a tortious
act. This is a shocking result, because tort liability should deter negligent
behavior. But, as this hypothetical shows, tort law currently does not force
tortfeasors like Aerodynamic Engines to internalize a substantial cost of its
risky activity. That cost is the loss to dead victims of the value of their lives.
Because tortfeasors are not required to bear this cost, they have less incentive
to take appropriate precautions to prevent similar accidents in the future.
This note argues that to deter negligent behavior adequately, tortfeasors
should be held liable for what may be the most substantial cost they impose
on accident victims-hedonic damages, or the loss of the value of life that
results from premature death. Part I argues that courts should assess he-
donic damages against tortfeasors to provide enough incentives for the
tortfeasor to take the proper amount of precautions to prevent future acci-
dents and losses. Part II argues that courts can closely approximate the ap-
propriate measure of hedonic damages by using economic empirical studies
that seek to ascertain the value of a life through a willingness to pay method
of valuation. This method computes the value of a human life by observing
what that individual would be willing to pay to avoid marginal increases in
his risk of death. To minimize litigation costs while still creating efficient
incentives, Part III proposes that the amount of a hedonic damages award
should be based on the average value of the life of the population put at risk
1. See infra text accompanying notes 19-28.


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