“Aircrash,” A&E


How does the government measure hedonic damages in a plane crash? Stan explains the imperfect system of compensating the loss of lives and crash victims’ psychological distress.

Narrator: After a plane crash, survivors and surviving family members struggle to come to terms with what has happened. And the air crash victims forced to endure them, often come to realize that they aren’t so much about money, as the real value of a human life.

Stan Smith: In every plane crash, there are really two explosions. One, the initial impact and explosion of the aircraft. But secondly, there’s an explosion into the souls and the psyches of those who survive—the close family loved ones, whose lives are torn asunder. It’s really a very imperfect system to try and seek to compensate people whose lives can never be put back together again. So we’re providing a monetary remedy, but we can never really set things right.

You have in the final moments of your eternity, living with that knowledge and nothing but that knowledge. And I think that people expect that juries will give some significant weight to that sustenance of pain and suffering or mental anguish in those final moments.

Narrator: Using such equations where fractions of a second stretch towards eternity, the value of a life may transcend all price. On the other hand, the government uses an equation of its own called cost-benefit analysis, and this places a much lower value on a human life.

Smith: There [are] plenty of U.S. government rules and regulations that help us understand how life is valued in our contemporary American society. And every one of them has to have a study that says, “here is the cost of complying with this regulation, here is the benefit in terms of life saved, and here’s what it costs per life saved.”

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