Friday, June 18, 2010

How Much?

As mentioned in the previous couple of posts, I spent Monday in Austin at a mediation attempting to negotiate the settlement of an accident involving a fatality. It’s never easy to sit across the table from people who have lost their loved one(s) to an accident or tragedy and tell them how sorry you are for their loss and then explain the reasons why you don’t think your insured is liable for that loss. It borders on the hypocritical sometimes. It makes the entire process even more crass when you have to tell them the obvious that there is no way for you to bring their loved one back and the only thing you can offer them is money.

Though it’s been demanded of me in the past, I am not in the position to offer written apologies or confessions of criminal guilt on behalf of my insured. Though I’ve been accused of it, I am not a member of the Klan nor do I think I am God. I am simply the poor schmuck left in the position of having to put a price on the value of a human life taken away by accident. I am the purchasing agent of tragedy if you want to look at it that way. Unfortunately, by engaging in the claims process, claimants put themselves in the position of being purveyors and sellers of human life and tragedy.

Some have said that life is priceless; and, indeed, every day each one of us has in which we are upright and able to take nourishment is a gift we can’t buy in any store. However, in my world (and, by extension, the world of claimants), each one of those days has a value and a price.

America’s founding fathers want you to believe that all men are truly created equal. Unfortunately, when it comes to placing a value of the lives of different people, fate and circumstance dictate that equality is a fiction that knows no boundaries, racial, ethnic or otherwise.

It’s a funny thing to have to put a value on a human being’s existence. Lots of things need to be considered. Who were they? What did they do? Did they have family? Did they have a long life expectancy? Did they earn a lot of money or none at all? Where and how did they meet their demise? Did they or the insured my company represents do anything wrong to contribute to the accident? Does their family or estate have a good attorney capable of actually making a case against my company’s insured, or is the attorney a lying, cheating, ambulance chasing scumbag who never tries a case? And, unfortunately, will the potential jurors of the venue where the lawsuit would be tried have any bias against the parties to the lawsuit?

Yes, sad as it is to say, people are just as parochial and, dare I say, racist now as they were 50 or 100 years ago. It is true that some of the more obvious signs of bias and prejudice have been hidden by years of the civil rights movement, affirmative action and “diversity and inclusion” training as my company likes to call it; however, the truth remains that we are still human. Prejudice and bias are part of the human condition. It’s human nature to view those who are different than ourselves and see “them” as “different” than “us.” We like to think we are protecting “us” from “them” or taking care of “our own.”

All these questions and more are factored into what a particular person’s life is worth to a particular set of people on a given day. I’ve seen cases in which young children whose only sin in life was being at the wrong place at the wrong time were “worth” nothing. I’ve seen a case in which a suburban house wife with a cheating husband was “worth” millions. There is no rhyme or reason. Each case is unique. It’s viewed through a very jaded prism of circumstance and the best estimate of what a hypothetical jury of one’s peers will decide a case is worth at a hypothetical trial of the facts.

As one might expect from the fact that I’m writing about this, my work tends to make me a tad bit introspective. What is the value of my own life? I know, more or less, what the dollar sum total of my life insurance benefits would be after funeral expenses, paying off debts and whatever taxes Uncle Sam deems necessary to steal from The Queen. But, what about how I’ve impacted the world? How, if at all, have I made this world a better place? Have I contributed anything of lasting value to anyone, or have I just coasted through this world without leaving any trace? Am I worth millions or worthless?

The Queen tells me she wouldn’t trade me for any amount of money which is comforting (although I think she might consider renting me out in exchange for a Corvette or Cadillac XLR). As I’ve said before, I really don’t think I deserve her (or anyone else’s) admiration. There are times when I feel worth less than the proverbial warm bucket of spit. It’s just that I feel like I can and should be doing more with my life than I am.

One of the reasons I started writing was to, hopefully, leave something meaningful behind to those who follow. To make people laugh, cry and, yes, even think once in a while. To those who have taken the time to follow my deranged ramblings, I simply say thanks. It’s nice to know there are others out there that find some measure of meaning in my words.


  1. K., I think we are of similar minds today as I write about my grandmother and her stories that will go untold, and wonder what parts of my life will be forgotten also. I think about this often since my own mother's death. She died, penniless, with no insurance, living in a spare room of my sisters. By the time I was done packing what was "valuable" I had 4 boxes. 4 boxes to sum up someone's life. Thankfully I know that our value is not found in what is left behind but in the joy we bring others while we're here.
    I'm sure the Queen would agree with me here, you bring joy. Thank you, blogger-friend, for letting me follow your helps me not to feel so deranged myself :)

  2. Mel, thanks for the kind words. I understand what you mean about stories untold and packing up what is "valuable". The Queen's 93 year old grandmother lives with us right now. Her dementia makes it impossible to have a conversation with her or capture the stories of her life. She has no income beyond a very meager social security check as she has outlived the investments her husband had set up for her before he died. Yet, despite that, she is considered to be an invaluable treasure within our church community where she is known as "Grandma Clayson" to literally thousands of adopted "grandchildren" around the world. I keep intending to write about that and just haven't worked up to it yet.

    You are welcome for me "letting" you follow my ramblings. I consider the privilege mine. To borrow from something I read in a Spider Robinson novel: "Shared joy is increased. Shared pain is lessened."


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