Slavery and Tort Law

60 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2004

See all articles by Keith N. Hylton

Keith N. Hylton

Boston University - School of Law


This paper evaluates the claim for slavery reparations from a torts perspective. I start with an examination of the injuries inflicted on slaves, and the extent to which tort law provides a vehicle for redressing these injuries. I then take up the question of derivative claims, claims brought by someone other than the direct victim, a category which covers the reparations complaint. Lastly, I discuss the accounting demand by the reparations plaintiffs. The derivative status of reparations claims presents special obstacles for plaintiffs. However, applying today's law to slavery should be viewed as bringing law to a regime from which it had been entirely displaced, not as a retroactive application of a different set of rules. The more troubling problem for plaintiffs is the passage of time. After enough time has passed, tort doctrine shuts the door on claims based on old and distant injuries. It appears that the only component of reparations lawsuits that has the potential for social gain is the demand for an accounting.

Keywords: Reparations lawsuits, restitution, torts, derivative claims, slavery

JEL Classification: K000, K130, K19

Suggested Citation

Hylton, Keith N., Slavery and Tort Law. Available at SSRN:

Keith N. Hylton (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

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