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
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
* A one percent increase in the Hispanic poverty rate is associated
with a seven percent increase in the average size of a personal
* 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
(Requires university subscription to the Journal of Legal Studies).
(Scroll down for link to working paper pdf.)
"Home Cooking a Class Action," by Alexander T. Tabarrok (5/5/02)
The Independent Institute archive on litigation