Keith N. Hylton

Boston University School of Law Working Paper 03-02


This paper evaluates the claim for slavery reparations from a torts perspective. I start with an examination of the injuries inflicted on slaves, and the extent to which tort law provides a vehicle for redressing these injuries. I then take up the question of "derivative claims," claims brought by someone other than the direct victim, a category which covers the reparations complaint. Lastly, I discuss the accounting demand by the reparations plaintiffs. The derivative status of reparations claims presents special obstacles for plaintiffs. However, applying today's law to slavery should be viewed as bringing law to a regime from which it had been entirely displaced, not as a retroactive application of a different set of rules. The more troubling problem for plaintiffs is the passage of time. After enough time has passed, tort doctrine shuts the door on claims based on old and distant injuries. It appears that the only component of reparations lawsuits that has the potential for social gain is the demand for an accounting.


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Keith N. Hylton Contact Information
Boston University School of Law
765 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 353-8959

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Presentation and Publication Information:

Forthcoming, Volume 84, Boston University Law Review (Symposium on Jurisprudence of Reparations), December, 2004..

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