If you were to die in an accident, how much would your life be worth? It’s a morbid question, but it’s also a question that wrongful death juries and wrongful death attorneys have to confront every day. While it seems not quite right to calculate the monetary worth of someone’s life, it is necessary in order to make certain that the family of the person who was killed receives a fair amount of compensation.
When calculating wrongful death settlements, attorneys, judges, and juries have to ask
• How many future wages were lost for the family?
• How much household support was lost?
• How much potential did this person have?
However, one study has found that how wrongful death awards are calculated is often not fair at all, especially when it comes to the gender of the person who died. All other things being equal, researchers found, the family of men who have died in accidents receives significantly more compensation than the family of women who have died in accidents.
Why is this so? Part of the issue is that, as you might guess, it is very difficult to put a price on someone’s life or what someone contributed to a family. How do you put a price on the advice someone offered you, or someone’s companionship, or someone’s love? Because deciding on a wrongful death case amount is so subjective, it is often also filled with bias. Unfortunately, even today, the bias is against women. When, for example, a man loses his wife, the jury may decide that the husband is less in need of financial support and compensation than if a woman is widowed by an accident. Juries see widowers as people who can take care of themselves and move on, while widows are seen as being left without support, possibly for the rest of their lives.
How can we prevent gender bias in wrongful death cases? The best way that individuals can help is through realizing that this bias exists in everyday life and that they may be subconsciously displaying the same bias. In wrongful death trials themselves, jurors could benefit from an expert witness would could specifically explain why a woman’s life is equal to that of a man; for example, if the woman was a stay-at-home-mom, the expert could explain the important economic aspect of what she provided for her family.