Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Putting a price tag on life

Posted March 17, 2009
Updated March 19, 2009

Tuesday, the family of a murdered Wake County woman, Michelle Young,  was awarded $15.5 million in damages for her loss. The money is slated to go to the couple's 4-year-old daughter, Cassidy. The compensatory and punitive damages are to be paid by the victim's husband, Jason Young.

Although he has not been charged in his wife's murder, he has now been held officially responsible in the civil court for her death. The lead investigator in the criminal case testified that he believed Jason Young killed his wife.

Most of the testimony in the civil case surrounded the value of Michelle Young's life. An economist tried to quantify in dollars what her loss meant to Progress Energy, where she was a financial analyst on the fast track, earning an annual 15 percent raise.  Most importantly, he tried to quantify what her loss meant to Cassidy, who will forever have a void in her life as the result of her mother's untimely death. He calculated the hours Michelle Young spent caring for her daughter when she was alive and estimated how that would have played out through the child's life.

Attorneys also tried to put a value on Michelle Young's pain and suffering. She was viciously beaten about her head and body. She was five months' pregnant at the time. Michelle Young fought back, probably knowing she was about to die. The beating was so severe it broke her jaw, knocked her teeth out, and sent blood "spraying" in every direction, according to investigators.

The hearing made me think seriously about how do we put a value on someone's life? By all accounts, Michelle Young was beautiful, smart, and kind. She was a dedicated employee and a wonderful mother, daughter and friend. Her young daughter will now grow up with little memory of her mother other than the ones re-told to her by her mother's family. How can you quantify this kind of monumental loss? In all honesty, I don't think you can.

Realistically, Jason Young will probably never be able to pay the money ordered by the court in the wrongful death lawsuit. But Linda Fisher's attorneys said after court yesterday that the case was really never about money. It was about something much more important – the value of Michelle Young's life.  I think her family and friends would agree the value of her life is priceless.

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