RACE, POVERTY, AND PERSONAL INJURY AWARDS For years lawyers have talked about "the Bronx effect," the idea that juries from high-poverty areas with large minority populations favor injured plaintiffs. But anecdotes aside, little hard evidence has been brought forward one way or the other. The paucity of analysis on the role of race and poverty in the American tort system -- and growing interest in tort reform -- makes a new study published in the JOURNAL OF LEGAL STUDIES (v. 32 (1), Jan. 2003) all the more interesting.
According to the study's authors, economists Eric Helland and Alexander Tabarrok, research director of The Independent Institute, tort awards are significantly higher in counties and jury districts that have high black and Hispanic populations and poverty rates. Among Helland and Tabarrok's findings: * As white poverty increases, jury awards decrease; but as black poverty increases, jury awards increase. * A one percent increase in the black poverty rate is associated with a three to ten percent increase in the average size of a personal injury award. * A one percent increase in the Hispanic poverty rate is associated with a seven percent increase in the average size of a personal injury award. * Forum shopping for high-poverty minority counties could raise awards by hundreds of thousands of dollars. See "Race, Poverty, and American Tort Awards: Evidence from Three Datasets," by Eric Helland and Alexander Tabarrok http://www.independent.org/tii/lighthouse/LHLink5-22-1.html (Requires university subscription to the Journal of Legal Studies). http://www.independent.org/tii/lighthouse/LHLink5-22-2.html (Scroll down for link to working paper pdf.) Also see: "Home Cooking a Class Action," by Alexander T. Tabarrok (5/5/02) http://www.independent.org/tii/news/020508Tabarrok.html The Independent Institute archive on litigation http://www.independent.org/archive/litigation.html