How Much is a Human Life Worth?
October 4, 2002 2:08 PM   Subscribe

How Much is a Human Life Worth? Read the smoke signals that it's nigh time for tort reform. In the newest bout of self-help jurisprudence, the "good" people of california have gone too far in awarding an obscene amount of money in a case against Philip Morris. Betty Bullock can now take her 28 billion and go shopping for half of Microsoft, or any other Fortune 500 company, if she's so inclined. Assuming that there is a bank in the land that can cash the check. Smoking my way to the bank.
posted by mr.abominable (25 comments total)
CNN link for those of us who don't have an online WSJ subscription.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:15 PM on October 4, 2002

posted by rocketman at 2:16 PM on October 4, 2002

ObReminder about punitive damages having to be big enough to have some effect on the company being punished.
posted by moss at 2:17 PM on October 4, 2002

Fret not! courts will lower amounts rewarded by large amount--they always do. And smoke makers merely raise rates, knowing statsitically that dopes will pay anything to keep smoking, fulfilling their addiction...this has been going on now for a number of years. Do you see massive layoffs in the cigarette industry?
posted by Postroad at 2:23 PM on October 4, 2002

Johnny, thanks for the more accessible link. In checking the link I forgot that WSJ would automatically recognize me. My apologies ... first post.
posted by mr.abominable at 2:24 PM on October 4, 2002

"In September, Bullock won $850,000 in compensatory damages. Friday's award was intended to punish the company."
posted by Guy Smiley at 2:25 PM on October 4, 2002

Betty Bullock can now take her 28 billion and go shopping for half of Microsoft, or any other Fortune 500 company, if she's so inclined.

No she can't, because we all know that like most judgements of this nature the amount is going to be reduced sharply, and of that reduction a large portion is going towards legal fees.

In addition, she's 64 and has lung cancer- hence the lawsuit. The only thing she's likely to be doing in the near future is dying thanks to the masterfully sucessful marketing strategies of the Philip Morris corporation.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:27 PM on October 4, 2002

$28 billion dollars is an enormous amount of money. Is there some sort of silent escalation of punitive damage awards in effect, due to the knowledge that the amount will (almost always) be reduced before it's ever paid?
posted by tingley at 2:28 PM on October 4, 2002

posted by interrobang at 2:32 PM on October 4, 2002

I'm always amazed by people who, after a lifetime of smoking (during which they tossed up lung cookies by the thousands, wheezed up even the shortest flight of stairs, watched their fingers and teeth turn amber) still pretend to believe that they were somehow fooled by tobacco companies into partaking of what they purportedly thought was a harmless product. For 40 years. Tossing up giant phlegm-wads in the shower the entire time.

Are we really that weak-minded? Nicotine is horribly addictive, sure. But I beat it. jonmc beat it not long ago. Thousands beat nicotine addiction every month. And millions more never succumb to the somehow otherwise will-sapping Svengali-like power of RJR's "marketing" (As a corporate marketing executive, that gives me the giggles every time).

Sad? Sure. Remember, however, that human mortality long-term is 100%. That's right: we all die of something. But the fault of the tobacco company? Hardly. They're rich and they're fools, which makes them easy targets. And everyone just piled right on, hoping for their chunk of the extortion money.

Buy 'em and smoke, or don't buy 'em and don't smoke. But don't pretend you're some mentally deficient child who somehow doesn't comprehend that coughing up giant charcoal briquettes every morning might - just might - be indicative that inhaling smoke could, just possibly, be the teensiest bit bad for you. It's embarrassing - more so than dying.
posted by UncleFes at 3:22 PM on October 4, 2002

28 Billion Dollars is monopoly money. It's more money than almost anything other than ... oh, say, 29 billion dollars.

Weak-willed Betty might be suffering through cancer, and yes that's a horrible thing, but the american consumer is not stupid. Well, not "criminally stupid". This woman had been informed for YEARS by doctors and friends that smoking was harmful to her health.

We as a public have known, KNOWN, that smoking was bad for a few decades.

My point is that it's insane to hand out that kind of indictment on the premise that it'll be "chipped away at" by the resultant appeal by Philip Morris. Our legal system is completely out of whack. The reason this is the case is because the lawyers control the democrats and the dems control congress.

So, yes, i'm worried that a portion of the proceeds will go to the lawyers. The system is set up to fulfill that promise. The woman dying of cancer is an afterthought in this system.
posted by mr.abominable at 3:53 PM on October 4, 2002

Have to agree with UncleFes. I've not ever put a cigarette in my mouth, for obvious reasons, and find it repulsive that people still constantly smoke. I can understand having one once and a while, or smoking a cigar now and then, but to smoke a pack or more a day? If your reaction to smoking isn't enough of a sign that you should stop, then you deserve whatever happens to you as a result.

Don't get me wrong, I despise tobacco marketing techniques as much as anyone, and hope they do go out of business. Maybe it's easy for me to be harsh since I don't understand how someone could become so addicted to something.

Then again, on the other hand, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer a few months back, high-grade glioblastoma, typical life span is less than a year. He got most of the tumor removed in surgery, and he's still alive right now, no word on how much longer. The point being that he basically had his cellphone glued to his head for the past 10 years. So, how much longer until we get Warning labels on cell phones, telling us they are harmful to our health. Will cellphone companies be the next Tobacco company?

I must say that I believe that my father's use of his cellphone most likely contributed to his development of brain cancer, but I still use my cell phone. So, if I end up with brain cancer down the road, should I sue the cellphone companies? Shit yeah, because there are no warning labels! Then again we all have to go sometime, might as well have some fun doing what you want while you're here.

I refuse to rewrite this post to make it more cohesive due to my lack of motivation. Hopefully the message got through.
posted by physics at 4:04 PM on October 4, 2002

Hmmm, I think an average-priced pack of cigs goes for what, $6 in California now? Weed is looking more and more affordable...

Even against the odds of being arrested and jailed for selling marijuana, doing all business behind closed doors, paying for guns and cameras to protect your product, and having to advertise through word of mouth, MARIJUANA IS STILL OUTSELLING THE INFERIOR, #2 WEED!!!
posted by zekinskia at 4:46 PM on October 4, 2002

The cigarettes may have had warning labels, but tobacco companies still refused to acknowledge any possibility of harm. The major ones went out of their respective ways to argue this time and again. It's hypocritical of them to now argue that the warning labels were an acceptable way of warning the public - as if they made some agreement with Uncle Sam. Besides, you probably still don't know what all's in there. There's still less acknowledgement of ingredients with cigarettes than exists with freakin' potato chips and Coke. That the woman got $28 billion sounds questionable to me, as it does to the pro-warnings-are-all-you-need crowd. That the tobacco companies are thus immune from all responsibility or liability because of such is entirely another story, the answer to which in my mind is clearly, "No."
posted by raysmj at 5:41 PM on October 4, 2002

Having said that, yes, this is a very Newsfiltery FPP, and a subject we've gone over (collectively) 58,397 or so times already. I didn't need to see it.
posted by raysmj at 5:44 PM on October 4, 2002

sorry, i'm a new member... didn't have didn't have a membership with the Wall Street Journal to be able to look at this thread, didn't have enough comments to post a new link, but the title, "how much is a human life worth" was so compelling to me, and I felt, an issue that is so dire and worth posting, used this thread (shamelessly), to bring up an issue that has come to my attention. That is, the case of Amina Lawal. Don't know how much we can help, but let's give it a shot...
posted by harja at 7:53 PM on October 4, 2002

I think it's disgusting. I'm a former smoker who quit 3 years ago after smoking for 15 years. The main reason I quit, aside from the obvious health reasons, was that I felt personally betrayed by the tobacco companies. I always knew it was bad for me and I should quit but I took the responsibility on myself. I didn't blame them for my addiction. What I did blame them for was the first big settlement they made with the states that caused the price of smokes to go up nearly a dollar a pack...and that was just the beginning. The tobacco companies threw us all under the bus...they can supply me with poison that I'll take of my own free will for my pleasure, but when they expect me to pay through the nose for it without even TRYING to fight it in court, that was it for me. They betrayed me and I quit for good.
posted by Eyegore at 10:02 PM on October 4, 2002

Even if there is sympathy for Mrs Bullock, is this another case of overlawyering ? It seems that "the sum awarded by the jury approximately equals the annual gross domestic product of Lithuania".
posted by taratan at 10:53 PM on October 4, 2002

I think the reason such huge amounts are being awarded is not a compensation for the individual claimants, but as punishment for the tobacco companies' past and ongoing crimes. The tobacco companies were sure, far in advance of everyone else, that smoking was proved dangerous - but they did their best to ensure that the fact was clouded in doubt.

Ironically, firms lik Philip Morris have recently discovered that people will continue to smoke even if tobacco companies blatantly admit that smoking is dangerous. But to me this is just as bad - they are the worst type of drug dealers, charging people to get addicted to a product so that they will be practically forced to continue buying it. It's cheesy.
posted by skylar at 2:26 AM on October 5, 2002

With this as a precedent, those suing countries and companies for supporting those responsible for Sept 11 should raise their ante to at least 500-600 trillion.
posted by HTuttle at 11:17 AM on October 5, 2002

The only thing she's likely to be doing in the near future is dying thanks to the masterfully successful marketing strategies of the Philip Morris corporation.

What a load of crap it is to blame the tobacco companies for this. It is equally wrong to blame fast food companies for marketing their product successfully when people become overweight. What next, are we going to blame the car manufacturers for killing people in car accidents? Blame the snack food manufacturers if someone chokes on a pretzel?

The world has gone mad.
posted by dg at 4:39 PM on October 7, 2002

If food companies profit in the knowledge that their food causes disease or death, and fail to improve their products in the knowledge that changes could be made to make them safe (or market their products as safe when they know they're dangerous) then, yes, they should be held liable.
posted by skylar at 12:07 AM on October 8, 2002

So you feel that consumers are too stupid to make their own choices, based on information available? That it is the sole responsibility of manufacturers to tell us what to eat to be healthy?

We all make choices in our life and, in many cases, we make a choice to eat, drink, smoke or otherwise ingest substances that we know are bad for us. We also participate in activities that are dangerous. Apart from children and others unable to make decisions as an adult, we decide to risk our health or our life for the perceived benefit we get.

It is not McDonalds fault if I eat their food and, if I choose to eat it for every meal, I will not fare well. That is my choice and not their fault. Why is this sort of thing so hard to understand? Likewise, no-one could claim they did not know (for the past 10 years at least) that smoking is bad for you, yet millions continue to do it. It is their choice to do so and they should accept the consequences of that choice.
posted by dg at 4:53 AM on October 8, 2002

« Older Canada Customs & Revenue Agency detains pro-Israel...   |   The UK has been urged to ban the smacking of... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments