The fund has abandoned a tool commonly relied upon to calculate compensatory awards in trials and settlements: gender-based economic tables that value the lost wages of men more highly.
Although largely symbolic as a precedent, the fund's decision has activist groups like NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund hoping that it will help to change attitudes, American Lawyer reports.
"It stops and erases the bias we know is inherent in women's compensation," says NOW LDEF legal director Martha Davis, who urges lawyers for female plaintiffs to use the male data in compensatory damage awards.
For years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics set the accepted standard with work-life expectancy tables weighted by such factors as gender, education and race. One fundamental assumption: Women will drop out of the workforce for several years to raise children.
American Lawyer notes some of the effects of this standard: From 1993 to 1999, the wrongful death of an adult male averaged an overall median compensation of $800,000, but for women it was $626,500, according to a 2000 nationwide study conducted by Jury Verdict Research.
Hardly anyone will argue that the BLS table is cutting-edge current. The government quit compiling it in 1986 (last using 1979-80 data), and has no intention of reviving it, says BLS spokesman Gary Steinberg.
In the meantime, economists and industry groups have published a few of their own private work-life expectancy tables, some of which have been used in tort litigation, despite controversy over their methodology.
Some economists believe that the work-life expectancy tables should continue to recognize the discrepancy between the sexes, because it's real. "If you look at the data, women still do spend less time in the workforce than men do. I know it's not politically correct, but it's accurate," says Dale Funderburk, a Texas A&M University economist who has also written about the tables.
Judges already have the flexibility to go either way, according to American Lawyer. More often, they are allowing a male-based workforce table to be used for a female plaintiff, especially if there is proof that the plaintiff had no intention of having children, says forensic economist Mel Fredlund, who has testified as an expert since the '70s and writes computer programs that calculate gender-based damage awards.
- American Lawyer article, via Law.com
federal Victim Compensation Fund, set up to compensate victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has awarded the first major settlement to recognize women as men - at least in terms of future lost wages, according to the publication American Lawyer.