Valuing Black Lives: A Constitutional Challenge to the Use of Race-Based Tables in Calculating Tort Damages
This Article challenges a practice in tort law that is ubiquitous, yet little noticed—namely the use of race-based wage, life expectancy, and work-life expectancy tables when calculating damage awards. The practice results in damage awards that are significantly lower for black victims than for white victims and creates an incentive for potential tortfeasors to allocate risk disproportionately to minority communities. This Article argues that the use of such tables is not only unfair; it is unconstitutional. Specifically, the Article argues that the use of race-based tables to calculate tort damages violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Article goes on to consider the broader implications of this argument and to explain why the move to truly race-neutral damage awards would require even more radical changes to our current tort system.