2002 No Action
2001 No Action
2000 No Action
1998 No Action
1995 No Action
July 11, 2001
TO THE HONORABLE, THE SENATE:
In accordance with the provisions of Rhode Island General Laws § 43-1-4, I am transmitting herewith with my disapproval, 2001-S 0247, Substitute A "An Act Relating to Courts and Civil Procedure - Wrongful Death."
This bill would include as pecuniary damages in a wrongful death action, the value placed on the decedent's enjoyment of life (or "hedonic damages"). Those damages would include the value of family, recreational and personal activities and interests that were a part of the decedent's everyday life.
I have three principal objections to awarding damages for the loss of enjoyment of life. First, these damages are highly speculative in nature. It is difficult, if not impossible, 10 quantify the qualify of a person's life, and doing so raises serious practical and ethical questions. By what standards is the quality of a person's life measured? Who would be permitted to testify on the decedent's enjoyment of life, or worse, lack of enjoyment of life? Would a decedent who was poor and suffered misfortune during his/her life be entitled 10 less than someone who was wealthy and lucky? The intangible, emotional and highly subjective nature of hedonic damages may lead to disproportionate awards. The difficulty in defining these damages also denies an appellate court meaningful review of hedonic damage awards. And, the social burden of providing such speculative damages will ultimately be borne by the public through increased insurance premiums.
Second, hedonic damages can create a double recovery for survivors. Under Rhode Island law, survivors can already receive compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and loss of consortium arising out of the wrongful death of another. If this bill were to become law, these same people could recover a second time, not for their own damages, but for another's. In essence, the beneficiaries would recover twice for the same loss.
Third, some advocates view hedonic damages as a way of punishing the wrongdoer. I do not share that view and neither does the Rhode Island Supreme Court. In Simeone v. Charron, 762 A.2d 442 (R.I. 2000), the Court reaffirmed that the purpose of the Rhode Island Wrongful Death Act is not to punish but 10 compensate - a purpose that would be undermined by the allowance of hedonic damages. In addition, while I see some merit to the argument that hedonic damages would increase wrongful death awards for low income decedents, those concerns could be better addressed by more narrowly tailored legislation directed at increasing Rhode Island's minimum $150,000 recovery or by expanding the statutory class of persons who could assert loss of consortium claims or by limiting hedonic damages to the class of plaintiffs unable 10 assert loss of consortium claims.
For all these reasons, I disapprove of this legislation and respectfully urge your support of this veto.