Valuing Black Lives: A Constitutional Challenge to the Use of Race-Based Tables in Calculating Tort Damages
76 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2017 Last revised: 7 Jun 2017
Date Written: April 19, 2017
In 2011, a young couple eagerly expecting the birth of their first child moved into an apartment in Brooklyn, New York, excited to have a new home for their growing family. Their child, a son, was born healthy soon thereafter. One year later, however, the couple received devastating news. A routine medical exam had detected lead in their young son’s blood. It turned out that the dust from lead paint in their new home had been quietly poisoning their baby. The family quickly moved out, but permanent damage to the baby’s central nervous system had been done. Over the next several years he would manifest significant cognitive delays as well as severe social and emotional impairments. The baby’s mother sued and the landlord was found negligent.
In calculating damages, the critical question for the jury was how much would this young child have earned over the course of his life had he not become injured. In answering this question, experts for both the plaintiff and the defendant took into consideration, albeit to different extents, the fact that the baby was Hispanic and used this fact to offer lower damage estimates than they would have had the baby been white. Relying on race-based data to calculate tort damages is, after all, standard practice. The only thing unusual about the case was that the judge, Jack Weinstein, of the Eastern District of New York, refused to allow it.
Keywords: Eased-Based wages, tort damages
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