Do Black Lives Matter?: Race as a Measure of Injury in Tort Law
18 The Scholar: St. Mary’s Law Review on Race and Social Justice, 2015
37 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2015
Date Written: August 1, 2015
Much of the current debate over race relations in the United States revolves around police brutality and legal injustice. However, prior to the events that made the phrase “black lives matter” the signature message of a protest movement against racism in the American justice system, the nation’s media was captivated briefly by another legal question: whether a child’s race should be used as a measure of injury to the child’s parents as part of a torts claim based on the “wrongful birth” of the child. Unfortunately, once the attention turned to the events that prompted the protests and the debate that has developed since, the discussion about whether someone’s racial identity could be used as a measure of injury faded.
Yet, the issues raised by the case are too interesting and important to be relegated to the background of the debate. The case not only offers the opportunity to discuss the issue of using race as an element in a tort law claim, it also poses interesting questions about the extent to which modern reproductive technologies change the way we think about injuries for purposes of tort law.
Obviously, there have been many wrongful birth and wrongful pregnancy cases in the past, but this one is different. Because the mother wanted to have a child and because the child was not born with a disability, the basis of the complaint is that the child’s race should be considered to be an injury to her and that the child’s existence should be considered to be an injury to the mother. If we are ready to recognize a claim in cases where the child is born with a condition that could have been avoided had the defendant not been negligent, should we also recognize a claim if the child turns out to have different physical traits than planned, or expected?
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