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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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How Much Is A Life Worth? It Depends Where You Live (And It’s Probably Lower Than You Think)

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Sovereign immunity "protects" state governments but hurts state citizensSo, how much is your life worth?

Wayne Green answers this question in an article published in the Tulsa World, concluding that "Oklahoma's low liability cap leaves some victims holding the bag."

The problem is "sovereign immunity." Sovereign immunity is the judicial doctrine that precludes victims from bringing a lawsuit against the government without the government's consent. This doctrine has its origins in British law founded on the principle that King can do no wrong.

Most government entities have abrogated this immunity – at least to a limited extent. But the extent of the government's sovereign immunity waiver varies greatly depending on where you live.

According to Green, in Oklahoma, if you are negligently injured or killed by the state, your life is worth exactly $125,000. If the state of Oklahoma negligently kills, maims, or otherwise harms you, the most you can recover is $125,000 – regardless of the nature of the State's conduct. That seems like a paltry sum for state that considers itself to value life.

In Missouri, my home state, there is an immunity cap tied to inflation. The initial cap was $2 million per incident with a maximum of $300,000 to any one person. Accounting for inflation, the caps are currently $2,618,240 per occurrence with a maximum of $392,734 per person.

The Illinois sovereign immunity cap is lower than Missouri or even Oklahoma. Illinois limits tort recoveries to only $100,000 unless the injury is caused by the operation of a state vehicle.

Oregon caps its immunity at $1.7 million with provisions for the cap to increase by $100,000 per year through 2015.

Eric Turkewitz wrote about the brutality of damages caps like these at his blog at New York Personal Injury Law Blog.

Seven were killed and dozens more injured. And now the State of Indiana is waltzing away from that tragedy having paid a mere $5M in total to 63 of the 65 victims and their families. For the families of those killed, a paltry $300K. If one of those killed or badly injured was a parent, that money will vanish quickly.

Why $5M? Because Indiana decided to limit its responsibility when it handed itself this brand of immunity and protection.

To find out how your state values your life, see State Sovereign Immunity and Tort Liability compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Should state and local governments have this immunity or should they just purchase insurance like the rest of us? How much should your life be worth?

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(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison

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