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Commodification of an Injury – Putting a price to pain

Posted in Firm News

One of the greatest challenges for an Albuquerque injury attorney is the task of placing a monetary value, or commodifying, serious injury or death. In wrongful death cases, for example, we represent families for whom no amount of money could even approximate making them whole. Nevertheless, even in these catastrophic cases, it is our professional duty to pursue the prospect of a monetary settlement. It is difficult for our clients to avoid feeling that commodifying their loss is commodifying their loved one’s life.

In an article entitled “Commodification in Law,” Philosophy Professor Nick Smith discusses the moral and ethical questions raised by the valuation of injury in the legal system. Much of his article is devoted to the theoretical impact of legal commodification on social and political systems, but he identifies two issues that apply directly to plaintiffs in wrongful death cases.

1. According to Professor Smith, commodification tends to reduce or oversimplify human life by “translating concrete particulars into abstract classifications.” The danger here is that the character and nuance of someone who dies wrongfully–the very aspects of a life that make it so precious–wash away in the effort to convert the loss of that life into a dollar amount.

2. On a related note, Professor Smith suggests that the reduction of the loss of a life to a dollar amount diminishes the spiritual meaning we attribute to that life. “It seems as if our very sense of wonder dulls,” Smith writes, “when we view the world through economic lenses.” Professor Smith goes on to observe that:

“Just as the natural sciences chip away at our self-understanding as beings somehow spiritually distinct from the rest of the material in the universe and we begin to look like merely another physical system, commodification drains metaphysical meaning from our lives, bodies, thoughts, and loves.”

Thus, there is a danger that even when a family obtains a favorable monetary result after a New Mexico wrongful death case, the result feels like an erosion to the memory of the loved one, a secondary loss. Here are some suggestions for avoiding that feeling:

-Recognize the limitations of a wrongful death case. It is not an attempt to make you whole, or to place a value on the life that was lost. If you view your case with either of these goals in mind, you will surely be disappointed. A wrongful death case is simply an effort to obtain some monetary compensation for the loss–it should not define the legacy of your loved one.

-Choose a lawyer with a genuine curiousity about you, your family, and your lost loved one, one who will celebrate and be motivated by his or her memory.

-Choose an attorney who will work with you on setting and achieving non-monetary goals that may include, for example, educating the public and/or institutional reform.

-Communicate with your personal injury lawyer about any discomfort you feel with the impact of commodification, and the legal process as whole, on the memory of your loved one.