One of the hardest things for me to wrap my mind around in the law is how to calculate damages for seemingly unquantifiable harms. The classic example, and the one that makes me squirmiest, is the calculation of the “value” of a human life that has been lost, which often comes up in the context of a wrongful death suit.

But I hadn’t even considered the complexities of the kinds of damages being sought by two Boston-area couples. Apparently, their second-grade children were read a story in school about two princes who fall in love. The parents are suing the school district, claiming invasion of privacy and freedom of religion by the school’s advancing of their gay-friendly “agenda.”

Putting aside the sort of dubious basis for this claim, let’s talk about the issue of damages. What good is a lawsuit without damages? No self-respecting lawsuit doesn’t seek at least a couple million these days, and this case appears to be no exception. The couples are seeking “compensatory and punitive damages.” Okay, the punitive damages thing, if a little silly, is at least easier to figure- whatever the jury feels would be enough to punish the school district- that’s how much they’ll get! But how on God’s green earth (sorry if that last phrase invaded your freedom of religion, by the way) could you possibly calculate the appropriate amount of compensatory damages for something like this? “My kid was forced to confront the diversity of families against my wishes! During story time! While sitting on the rug cross-legged, maybe even eating a snack! He’s been put off graham crackers forever after this! Damage! Trauma! That’s worth at least a million!”

When someone dies, I can see why you need to try to place a value on their life, as uncomfortable as that is, because their family may well need money to be able to carry on, and the thing is irreversable- someone has died. But when your kid gets a message that you don’t like? That’s grounds for a lawsuit seeking many many dollars? I think I must be missing the “litigous” gene. I hope that’s not going to be a problem for me in my future career.

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