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Life Itself Has Value

Although most people would agree with the idea that a person's life is valuable, a recent decision allows injured persons who have their life expectancy cut short due to the negligence of another to recover this value.

The case involved a malpractice claim against a hospital that failed to diagnose a newborn with hypoglycemia, a failure that caused the child to suffer severe brain damage. At trial, experts testified that the brain damage would prevent the child from keeping in good health, and that he was likely to die from 10 to 25 years earlier than average.

The court awarded the child damages for this reduced life expectancy. It held that "life itself has value," and the hospital "should be required to pay damages for wrongful conduct that reduces [the child's] life expectancy." The hospital argued that if this is the case it should receive a "credit" for the medical care the child will not need because he will die before his time. The court rejected this claim, holding that the hospital "should not be allowed to benefit from a reduction in a plaintiff's damages due to decreased life expectancy when it was the defendant's wrongful conduct that caused the decreased life expectancy."

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