Sidebar Chamallas Cited Extensively in Lead Paint Case
Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York relied heavily on the research of Professor Martha Chamallas in deciding a recent case involving a young child who was injured by lead paint in an apartment building. G.M.M. v. Kipsom, 2015 U.S. Dist. Lexis 99715 (E.D.N.Y., July 29, 2015). In the case, the defendant landlord attempted to argue that damages should be reduced because the plaintiff was Hispanic, and, therefore, had a reduced likelihood of obtaining higher education and less future earning potential.
Chamallas has written several articles and a book (The Measure of Injury: Race, Gender, and Tort Law (2010), with Jennifer B. Wriggins) advocating that courts abandon the use of tables that make predictions of future earnings based on race, ethnicity, and gender and instead look at the plaintiff’s individual circumstances. For example, in the recent case decided by Judge Weinstein, the plaintiff’s father held a bachelor’s degree and his mother a master’s degree, both strong indicators that he would also go to college even if, on average, Hispanics are less likely to earn a post-graduate degree.
“Economic data that is minority-specific saddles those who do not conform to the data with adverse generalizations about their group, ‘the very kind of stereotyping that anti-discrimination laws were meant to prohibit,’” Judge Weinstein wrote, citing Chamallas’ article Civil Rights in Ordinary Tort Cases: Race, Gender, and the Calculation of Economic Loss, 38 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1435, 1439 (2005).
In her scholarship, Chamallas argues that the use of race or ethinic-specific tables to predict future earnings of young children in lead paint cases is particularly problematic because it often greatly undervalues the children’s potential and makes it “ cheaper to injure poor minority children, providing less incentive for defendants to take measures to clean up toxic hazards in the neighborhoods most affected by lead paint.”
Chamallas’ work was also extensively cited in McMillan v. City of New York, which involved an African –American man who was paralyzed during the 2003 Staten Island ferry crash. It was the first case to hold that the use of race to determine tort damages violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.
Read the full opinion below.