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Racially based life expectancy and related data may not be utilized to find a reduced life expectancy for a claimant in computing damages based on predictions of life expectancy.
James McMillan, the claimant, was rendered a quadriplegic in the crash of a ferryboat operated negligently by the City of New York. He sued for pain, suffering and cost of necessary medical care. A critical factor in determining McMillan’s damages is his estimated life expectancy. In a trial before the court and an advisory jury, statistical evidence was introduced suggesting that a spinal cord-injured "African-American" was likely to survive for fewer years than persons of other "races" with similar injuries. The parties characterized claimant as an "African-American."
May such "racially" based statistics and other compilations be relied upon to find a shorter life expectancy for a person characterized as an "African-American," than for one in the general American population of mixed "ethnic" and "racial" backgrounds?
The court determined that such racially statistical evidence could not be used to demonstrate a reduced life expectancy for the claimant. The court found that reliance on race-based statistics in estimating life expectancy of individuals for purposes of calculating damages was not scientifically acceptable due to the current heterogeneous population. The court found that racial disparities in quality of health care were associated with socioeconomic differences and tended to diminish significantly when socioeconomic factors were controlled. Equal protection demanded that the claimant not be subjected to a disadvantageous life expectancy estimate solely on the basis of a racial classification. The court held that the use of race-based statistics regarding life expectancy would create arbitrary and irrational state action and constitute a denial of due process.