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Can Florida Put a Price on a Life?

The birth of a child should be a celebration. But for some, that's not always the case. For a couple in Miami, the birth of their child was both a moment of joy and sorrow. Their son was born with extensive brain damage as a result of a preventable error by the hospital staff during the labor process.

The amount of medical attention their son needed led the couple to file a medical malpractice claim in federal court. And though the couple was awarded a large settlement for the medical malpractice claim, the death of their son required them to refile their claim as wrongful death. What they found was that federal laws had changed the amount they could be awarded.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court of appeals that governs three states including Florida, had previously decided in 2008 to cap the amount a judge could award at whatever the highest award had been in that district. Although a bit confusing, the court's intent was to establish some standards for awards in wrongful death claims.

In cases where a loved one is injured or hospitalized, determining the monetary effect it can have is a simpler task. There are hospital and in-home care bills to pay. But what about the emotions, stress, suffering, and sorrow that is ongoing? Is there a monetary amount that accurately quantifies the life of a person? It is not an easy answer, especially when that life was lost because someone failed to properly pay attention.

As a result of the court's new standard, the couple's settlement went from $65 million for a medical malpractice claim to $10.2 million as a wrongful death award. While that settlement may seem impressive, it does not reverse the negligence of the hospital that day. The couple lost their son, and no amount of money could completely erase that loss.

Source: Fulton County Daily Report, 08/28/2010 (page unavailable online) via WestClip by Westlaw 

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