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Sarah Cool
Sarah Cool
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Judge Raises Questions – and Suggests Answers – About the Valuation of a Diminished Life After Hearing Accident Cases

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The Honorable John P. Murphy of the District Court of Nebraska recently heard a case regarding a number of claims against the state for failure to care for the intersection of U.S. Highway 30 and Newberry Access near North Platte. The Journal Star reported that the Judge found “ample evidence of negligence” in properly signing and maintaining the intersection. Aside from not putting in rumble strips as it had planned, the state also failed to place a stop sign close enough to the intersection and failed to place a stop bar (a kind of pavement marking) at the intersection. As a result, claims for injuries could cost the state $3.56 million. The funds are expected to come from a claims bill that is expected to be approved by the Nebraska Legislature this year. Most of the funds will be paid to two men severely injured in accidents in October 2002. The accidents each occurred within less than two weeks of each other, and resulted in brain injuries for the men.

Judge Murphy posed interesting questions, asking “In these times of skewed values, when only moderately talented entertainers receive sums hundreds of times greater than that we pay teachers, when athletes earn more than physicians, when CEOs are receiving compensation of hundreds of millions of dollars while their workers struggle to get by, how do we value a full life” and “what is it worth not to be the same person you once were?” Judge Murphy showed the extent of the emotional impact of the intersection, and the injuries it caused by explaining that for the accident victims “the bright sun of a life fully lived has become clouded and dimmed.” He recognized the hardship presented by placing a dollar amount on such damage, or diminution of human life, and explained that when one’s “personality, the very core of one’s being, shattered in the instant of impact” is lost, we don’t value it nearly enough.