Per Diem, the Golden Rule and Sunshine…


What do these three terms have to do with each other and more importantly, you if you have been injured by someone else’s negligence? In Wisconsin, a lot.

What do these three terms have to do with each other and more importantly, you if you have been injured by someone else’s negligence?  In Wisconsin, a lot.

If you have been hurt, and are permanently injured you deserve to be compensated for the rest of your life.  If someone ran a red light and smashed in to your car causing you to lose your leg, you will suffer that injury every single day of your life.  Let’s say you have a life expectancy of 32 years.  That translates into 11,680 days.  Is it too much to ask for $100 per day for that injury?  In Wisconsin, such a request will likely lead to a mistrial and a very angry judge.  The people in charge of such rules claim that it is unfair to make these “per diem” arguments as it could lead to large damage awards.  Never mind that the person is going to have to wake up every day for the next 32 years with no leg.  That person is damaged every single day because of her injuries, but can’t ask for damages calculated to account for that fact.

Similarly, the person who lost his leg cannot ask the jury to put themselves in her places.  They cannot say “imagine what your life would be like if you were missing a leg.  How much money is your leg worth?”  This is called the Golden Rule argument.  Again, the rule makers have decided this is an unfair argument.  The jury may personalize the matter, and not decide the matter objectively.  Leaving aside the fact that there is no objective measure of the value of a leg, why shouldn’t a jury think about how much such an injury is worth to them?  We ask a jury to provide us with the societal norm in its verdict.

Finally, juries in Wisconsin are told not to worry about the outcome of the lawsuit.  They are only to answer the questions in the verdict form.  Most other states have “sunshine laws” so the jury knows the impact of its answers.  For instance, in Wisconsin a jury is told to answer the damage questions no matter how they answered the other questions in the verdict.  If that jury found no negligence the plaintiff gets no money, regardless of how much was put in as damages.  A jury should know the effect of its verdict.  The majority of states trust their juries with this information, shouldn’t Wisconsin?