When you think of personal injury cases and the factors that contribute to higher verdicts, you likely focus on things like the severity of the injuries suffered, whether there is permanent damage and whether the defendant was especially reckless or grossly negligent. Though these are important factors, a recent article in Business Insider mentions another few considerations many people overlook: race and gender.
Though we might instinctively believe that things like race or gender shouldn’t have anything to do personal injury damages, studies indicate that they absolutely do. In fact, experts say that if a young black girl and a young white boy both suffered the exact same injuries, perhaps due to lead poisoning, it’s quite possible that the white boy would walk away with millions more dollars in personal injury damages than the black girl.
Your first question will likely be, why is this true? Are the courts simply discriminating? Well, the answer is a bit complicated. To understand why the results are so different based on race and gender, we have to discuss one important component of personal injury damage awards: lost future earnings. If a person has been seriously injured, it is almost always the case that their lawyer will ask for compensation for the money the person would’ve earned in his or her life. This can represent a sizable chunk of the damages awarded.
To determine the amount of future earnings, lawyers and judges rely on experts that typically include factors such as the victim’s parent’s educational attainment level, the individual’s education and special skills and, race and gender. The reason is that white men are, statistically speaking, likely to earn more money than women and minorities over the course of a lifetime. The experts take this statistically reality into account when calculating future earnings and the result is frequently unfairly discriminatory personal injury awards.
In fact, experts say that in cases concerning lost future income, white men could receive 33% more than black men and up to 74% more than white women. For instance, a white women with an expected high school educational attainment would get around $694,000, while a white man with the same high school education would walk away with $1.2 million.
Even though these figures aren’t intended to discriminate, the reality is that is exactly what they’re doing. Critics say that by allowing race and gender to influence personal injury awards we are reinforcing prior discrimination. Action should be taken by courts to take factors like race and gender out of the personal injury award process to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.