What is the value of a human life? Insurance xecutives and safety analysts deal with this question regularly, but for most people, it’s
a difficult if not impossible task to say how much a life
is worth, especially a life as extraordinary as that of
American journalist Marie Colvin.
In 2012, Marie Colvin was killed while covering the
siege of Homs, Syria, for the British newspaper The
Sunday Times. French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik was
also killed during the bombardment. Marie’s family filed
a lawsuit in 2016 against the Syrian government, claiming Syrian officials used intercepted satellite phone signals to target and kill Marie to silence her reporting on
Syria and the besieged city of Homs. The case received
significant media coverage, and Marie’s story was retold
in the recent biographical feature film “A Private War,”
in which she was portrayed by actress Rosamund Pike,
in a Golden Globe-nominated performance.
Henry Weisburg, a senior partner at Shearman &
Sterling who represented Marie Colvin’s family along
with a team from the Center for Justice and Accountability (“CJA”), approached FTI Consulting in 2017
for assistance in calculating the economic losses for
the case. Because of my decade-plus of experience in
valuation, accounting and auditing in Europe and the
United States and my knowledge of international law, I
was chosen to lead the pro bono project, which turned
out to be one of the most interesting and personally
fulfilling assignments of my career.
PUTTING THE “HER” IN “HERO”
Marie Colvin was not an average American citizen,
nor an ordinary foreign correspondent working abroad.
Her trademark black eyepatch, which she wore after los-
ing her left eye to a Sri Lankan Army rocket-powered
grenade, attested to her courage and selflessness in bear-
ing witness to conflict around the globe. In East Timor,
she was credited with saving the lives of 1,500 women
and children who were besieged in a compound by In-
donesian-backed forces. While 22 journalist colleagues
evacuated, she stayed on with an unarmed United Nations
force and continued to report on their plight until they
were evacuated to safety four days later.
She was twice named Foreign Reporter of the Year
(2001 and 2010) in the British Press Awards. She was
given an International Women’s Media Foundation
award for courage in journalism for her coverage of
Kosovo and Chechnya. The Foreign Press Association
named her Journalist of the Year in 2000.
For the task at hand, my job was to come up with an
economic value of Marie’s life that was lost when she was
killed in Syria. The usual due diligence of reviewing the
estate accounts, financial securities statements, tax documents and employer policies provided a starting point.
Beyond that, I had to think through every relevant aspect
of her life, envision every related detail, and understand
the industry she worked for, as well as her professional
aspirations. To fully quantify the economic losses arising
from Marie’s untimely death, I drew on my education and
experience to develop a unique model based on primary
research and information specific to her situation.
QUANTIFYING THE RISK OF CONFLICT ZONES
While standard valuation methodologies applied to
most of my work, there was one part that was unique: creation of an entirely original model to estimate the probability of a foreign correspondent being killed in a war
zone. In Marie’s case, I also took into consideration her
celebrity as a widely admired, award-winning war correspondent and the supplemental income-generating opportunities that may have come her way, such as possible
freelance work on books and documentary films.
To create my “war zone” risk model, I started with
a baseline assumption gleaned from government health
statistics that Marie would normally have been expected
to live until age 84. Then I had to consider the annual
average probability of death as a foreign correspondent
working in a conflict zone. To come up with this measure,
considerable research was required to determine:
• The average annual number of American foreign correspondents
and reporters killed globally per year on dangerous assignments,
from data compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists;