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Does a parent’s life have value for a child? (A Thorn in the side of the Gang of Three)

Recently, the new majority of 4 Michigan Supreme Court Justices upheld a decision by the Court of Appeals in Thorn v Mercy Memorial Hospital. In Thorn, a mother of young children died as a result of a medical error. When the family sued the defendant’s argued that the children could not recover any of the economic cost of paying to try and replace the services that their mother would have provided during their lifetime. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument.

The Defendant’s appealed this decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided that the Court of Appeals got it right and upheld the decision.Justice Robert Young (who is up for re-election in 2010) strongly disagreed.

A review of his dissent is interesting. Justice Young finds it offensive to separate out an economic component of child-rearing because “it devalues the relationship that family members share with one another”. instead he would have us return to the days when child-rearing was not viewed as having economic value in our society. In short, Justice Young places such a “high value” on child-rearing that he would adopt a legal rule that awards no compensation for such services.

To support his position, Justice Young relies on antiquated views expressed by the court almost 50 years ago when discussing loss of consortium. The simple fact is that the economic value of child-rearing is not hard to quantify because we know precisely how much it would cost to replace the parent who typically provides those necessary services. Obviously, we cannot replace the love the parent provides the child at the same time that he or she performs those services, but we can ensure that the child’s basic needs are not ignored.

We can ensure that the child gets to the after-school events and the doctor’s office and eats a nutritious meal, but, of course, it costs money to make that happen. Regardless, Justice Young would deny the child any recovery for the economic value of those services because he is afraid that it will undermine the sanctity of the parent-child relationship.

Justice young ignores the fact that in this particular case, the parent-child relationship has ended, because of allegedly botched medical care, and thus, economic damages are likely the only way to ensure that such essential services continue to be provided for the child who has lost a parent.

To that child, Justice Young offers only words about his concerns that such compensation will “devalue” familial relationships. Words, however, will not ensure that a child with no mother, as in this case, is taken to the doctor’s office promptly or that the child participates in school activities or sports. By the same token, words in the form of a legal rule awarding compensation for such services will not “devalue” anything — parents will still love their children — and when a parent is killed, child care (and the money to pay for such care) will still be required. in the end, the parent-child relationship will be no worse for having such a rule, which simply recognizes what President Obama might call the “real-life” consequences of judicial decisions.

Young’s dissent is not totally shocking as he has simply continued a long line of anti-family, pro insurance decisions. Young came to the court having left his job as counsel for insurance giant AAA. By virtue of this decision (and a long list of many others) I will bet that Young guarantees the support (and contributions) from the powerful and monied Insurance and Business lobby.