Brody, J.J.D.R.C., Temporarily Assigned.
This is an amplification of an oral opinion rendered during trial at the close of evidence. A request to charge raised the novel question of whether shortened life expectancy is per se an element of damages in a personal injury action. I held it is not.
A former patient of defendant doctor brought this malpractice action charging that defendant failed to diagnose the onset of a massive coronary occlusion in time to avert its occurrence or moderate its effect.*fn1 Plaintiff, a bachelor, has no dependents. It is undisputed that the heart attack will probably shorten his life. Adequacy of proof of the period of foreshortening is also not in dispute.
At issue is the manner of measuring the nonpecuniary loss caused by the wrongful shortening of a claimant's life. Plaintiff requests the following charge:
If you the jury find the plaintiff has sustained injury as a proximate cause of the defendant's negligence which will shorten the plaintiff's life, then the measure of damages is what a reasonable and prudent man or woman would consider to be adequate or just under all the circumstances of the case to compensate the plaintiff for the reduction of his life.
An element of nonpecuniary loss in a personal injury action is the adverse effect that the prospect of premature
death, wrongfully caused by defendant, may have on the quality of the injured person's life. Rhone v. Fisher , 224 Md. 223, 167 A.2d 773, 778 (Ct. App. 1961). Plaintiff seeks more. He wants the jury to evaluate and compensate him not only for the reduced quality of his life but also for the unlived portion of his normal life expectancy.
Courts have traditionally declined to venture upon the awesome task of evaluating life itself. See Grosso v. Del., L. & W.R.R. Co. , 50 N.J.L. 317, 320 (S. Ct. 1888). The few cases on the point at issue uniformly hold that evaluating damages for shortened life expectancy per se is too speculative to warrant allowance. Rhone v. Fisher, supra; Downie v. United States Lines Co. , 359 F.2d 344 (3 Cir. 1966) cert. den. 385 U.S. 897, 87 S. Ct. 201, 17 L. Ed. 2d 130 (1966); Richmond Gas Co. v. Baker , 146 Ind. 600, 45 N.E. 1049, 1052 (Sup. Ct. 1897); Farrington v. Stoddard , 115 F.2d 96, 100 (1st Cir. 1940).
In Tyminski v. United States , 481 F.2d 257, 271 (1973), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit anticipated the foregoing to be the law of New Jersey. It relied upon Downie v. United States Lines Co., supra at 347, where the same court, applying federal law under the Jones Act, held that an assessment of such damages "is not feasible because of the incalculable variables which may enter into any attempt to place a value on life; absent some workable criteria, a damage award would be base speculation."
Another argument to the same end denies damages for the period of lost life on the ground that these damages would duplicate the consequential damages recovered for the reduced quality of life caused by the prospect of premature death. Rhone v. Fisher, supra 167 A.2d 773, at 778. The point made is that one should not be compensated for both the consequential damages of a loss and for the loss itself.
Thus other jurisdictions have denied compensation for shortened life expectancy per se for a variety of reasons: the awesome and speculative nature of the assessment, and duplication of ...