How to Include Issues of Race and Racism in the Torts Course for First Year Law Students: A Call for Reform
27 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2021
Date Written: December 12, 2021
Race and racism have always played a significant role in the U.S. tort system as research has long shown and as hundreds of published decisions demonstrate. Do torts casebooks reflect the importance of race and racism in torts? The article first surveys 23 torts casebooks published from 2016 to 2021 to see whether and to what extent they discuss race and racism. Most avoid discussions of race and racism in torts; and although they always discuss tort history, they omit the racial history of torts. Although publishers frequently issue new editions of torts casebooks, newer editions generally have not expanded their focus to include race and racism. Two notable exceptions are the new open source casebook, TORTS: A 21ST CENTURY APPROACH, by Prof. Zahr Said, and TORT LAW AND PRACTICE by Prof. Dominick Vetri and co-authors.
Following the casebook survey, the article turns to this question: How can professors incorporate issues of race and racism in their torts courses? I recommend that law teachers incorporate issues of race and racism in first year torts courses in two major ways. First, law professors should teach a number of pedagogically interesting cases that deal with race and racism and that also illuminate significant doctrinal issues. This article suggests specific cases keyed to most of the important doctrinal areas in torts. These cases are less known than cases that are commonly taught, but they are also important and can convey the relevant doctrinal points equally well. Second, law professors in teaching damages should include material on the devaluation of injuries to African-Americans in torts. Important background also includes information about the unequal distribution of liability insurance – a key part of the torts system – by race. Since torts is a required first year course, and race and racism have had a significant role in the U.S. torts system, law students should gain at least a general understanding of race and racism’s role in torts. Including race and racism in torts courses strengthens the first year curriculum. While this may seem daunting for some instructors, ample materials now on offer make it very feasible. The time is certainly ripe for this essential change.
Keywords: torts, racism, race, teaching torts, agency, civil rights, common carriers
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