Using Longevity versus Life Expectancy to advocate for the elderly victim
The following scenarios may be familiar to many attorneys:
An 80 year old gentleman was crossing an intersection where he had the green light. He was broadsided by another car, was severely injured in the accident, and only lived for two more weeks.
A 78 year old lady was admitted to the hospital for a routine colonoscopy. The radiologist punctured her colon during the procedure, she developed peritonitis, then became septic, and subsequently died a week later.
Liability is crystal clear in both cases. However, the age of the plaintiff in each case could be a significant factor in decreasing the final settlement amount for the families. Life expectancy for men in the United States is 76 and life expectancy for women in the U.S. is 81. Defense will likely argue that the 80 year old gentleman or the 78 year old lady had a limited life span at this point, so the loss of life in years was negligable.
Life Expectancy is the average number of years that a person can be expected to live. The focus in life expectancy studies and expert opinions is on factors that contribute to or cause death.
Longevity theory, on the other hand, focuses on factors that might contribute to a longer life. Counsel for each of these hypothetical cases might consider employing some tenets of Longevity Theory to demonstrate that a longer life span may have been not only possible, but likely for each of these individuals.
First, let’s take a look at longevity theory and some studies that identify “longevity traits”:
LONGEVITY THEORY AND IDENTIFIED LONGEVITY TRAITS
The study of longevity focuses on the discovery of methods to extend life by defining similar traits in long lived individuals, particularly centenarians. While proponents of traditional methods of determining life expectancy may debunk longevity theory, there is a growing body of research by credentialed institutions and practitioners regarding both physiological and psychosocial predictors of exceptional longevity.
Of course, genetics does play a part in longevity. Additionally, one would expect to find lifestyle habits such as exercise, diet patterns, adequate sleep, nonsmoking and minimal alcohol use to have the most significant role in individuals who have reached 100 years of age or more. Multiple studies show that these habits may have an influence on extended life.
Although genetics and physiological influences have been identified as likely contributors to long life, numerous studies have shown an even stronger similarity in centenarians regarding psychosocial issues, personality traits, and characteristics.
A primary psychosocial factor supporting longevity is social connectedness. This includes having friends and loved ones a person can lean on, meaningful relationships, and daily interactions with other people that ward off loneliness and depression. Additionally, extroverts tend to live longer.
Conscientiousness has also been identified as a significant trait centenarians share. Researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin used data from a study that began in 1921 of 1500 boys and girls who lived into old age found that those who were “prudent, persistent, and planful” tended to live longer.
Lack of worry and anxiety were also identified as characteristics that longer lived people shared. These individuals don’t sweat the small stuff. Optimism was also identified as a longevity trait, and a sense of optimism can lead to a lower anxiety level.
A sense of humor was yet another common trait: laughter can provide both psychosocial and physical benefits that lead to increased longevity. Hand in hand with a sense of humor, individual happiness – men and women who are happy at sometime during every day – was noted to be common in the long lived.
In summary, genes and life style habits have been identified as contributors to longevity. But the most commonly shared traits of long lived individuals identified in numerous studies are the psychosocial traits noted above – social connectedness, conscientiousness, optimism and a “live and let live” attitude, humor, and happiness.
ESTABLISHING LONGEVITY TRAITS IN THE DECEASED
So, now that we’ve identified longevity traits, how can counsel investigate the life of the deceased to assess whether or not he or she shared these characteristics that may have added many years to his or her life span?
A legal nurse consultant can play a key role in assisting the attorney to develop a theory of longevity versus life expectancy. Careful review of the medical records can provide many clues to the life style and personality of the deceased. Lifestyle habits such as alcohol and tobacco use are noted as a matter of record. Additionally, diet, weight, and psychosocial status are usually noted in nursing assessments.
The LNC can also conduct interviews with family members, friends, coworkers, pastors or spiritual mentors, and health care providers. Did the deceased individual interact well with others at work? Did he or she have a sense of humor and demonstrate optimism? Did he or she have close friends and family members and spend time with them? Was the person conscientious about life plans and less anxious about what would happen next? Did the deceased have family members who lived for a very long time? This could point to family genes that contributed to a long life.
Additionally, an LNC can review additional records, such as employment records or even old school records to identify longevity characteristics.
Lastly, the LNC can identify researchers and other specialists in Longevity Theory that might serve as experts at trial.
By identifying multiple longevity traits, counsel may establish that his deceased 80 year old or 78 year client may have had another 20 productive, meaningful, and happy years – not another 2-3.