How much would you pay if you knew that the money would prevent the death or injury of a loved one? The question may sound a bit morbid, but decisions like this are made at the policy level on a daily basis. Policy-makers and government officials are asked to analyze data in order to make decisions about how much money to invest in safety systems, repairs to traffic lights and roads, and maintenance of infrastructure. Because these projects are often costly and require careful coordination of many agencies, specific guidelines are used to determine whether the projects will be feasible or valuable to society.
Policy-makers are required to make difficult decisions about how to allocate limited resources. In order to make these decisions, policy makers often place monetary values on statistical human life in order to compare the value of different infrastructure projects. Current policy-analysis requires policy-makers to place a value on the reduction of fatal and personal injury accidents following the implementation of a project.
The concept isn’t too foreign when one considers that judges in personal injury cases are required to place values on injuries, pain and suffering, and wrongful death claims. Following a car accident involving personal injury or wrongful death, judges and juries are sometimes also asked to evaluate the value of loss of companionship. Personal injury lawyers like Rensch & Rensch litigate every day on these very questions, and, as a result, victims seek out experienced lawyers to ensure that they receive fair compensation for their injuries and losses.
When it comes to policy-making and evaluation of personal injury risk, the question stems from how society values the reduction of risk. Researchers have attempted to use various models to quantify society’s value of the reduction of risk, but an individual’s willingness to pay or accept compensation for changes in risk was seen as a large indicator of how society values risk. According to the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, one way that risk analysis could be studied would be to determine how much more individuals would ask for in compensation in order to take on added personal injury risk on the job.
When policy-makers make decisions about whether to, say, add a new stoplight, or widen a road, they often use a statistical tool called the “value of a statistical life.” This value takes into account various factors including quality of life and a person’s earning potential after lawsuits and personal injury litigation is considered. The value is statistical in nature and places a monetary amount on the cost of reducing the statistical number of deaths in a particular situation.

So, using these statistical models, what is the value of a human life? Policymakers and organizations may vary on the numbers that they use. For instance, the National Center for Environmental Economics places the value of a statistical life at $7.4 million per individual. These numbers are used to factor in the amount the policy-makers are willing to invest to reduce the statistical risk of individuals dying or being injured from environmental hazards. While the numbers have often been misquoted or misinterpreted as the value the government places on each American life, the reality is that, when it comes to assessing personal injury risk or the risk of death, the government and policy-makers use economic values to assess the cost and benefits of reducing risk.
Economic factors often play a great role in even how individuals assess and tolerate risk. For instance, according to the journal of Transportation Research, researchers found that individuals were more likely to drive more safely after experiencing raises to their insurance premiums following a car accident. The researchers found that individuals were more likely to engage in safer driving practices when the cost of an accident was more expensive. Among Croatian drivers, the researchers found that increasing the cost of an accident over three years by as little as $20 U.S. dollars decreased the probability that an accident would take place by 6.5%.
Personal injury lawsuits may also have a similar effect on reducing the number of accidents that take place. When individuals understand that there is a clear economic cost to getting into an accident that injures another individual, individuals may be more likely to take more precautions while driving. For those who have been injured, a personal injury lawyer can ensure that justice is served and that those who are responsible for accidents in Nebraska experience adequate consequences for their negligence. If the current research holds, these consequences can possibly prevent accidents in the future.
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