Suing insurers for slavery reparations?

According to this article in today’s Chi Trib, lawsuits are being filed against insurance companies whose predecessors insured slave owners against their slaves’ deaths.

Anyone other than me think this is a bad idea?

However reprehensible, slavery was legal at the time. Is it appropriate for a company to be held liable for actions committed 150 years earlier that were fully in compliance with the law at that time?

The article draws analogies to reparations for government internment of Japanese-Americans, and Jewish lawsuits against European banks over seized assets. I consider these analogies tenuous - to put it mildly.

Hmm given that my Anglo-Saxon ancestors were subdued and enslaved by my Norman ancestors, and my Celtic ancestors were raped and pillaged by my Viking ancestors, I shall be contacting my lawyers…

Seriously I know that’s not quite the same situation. But I cannot see the merit or point of reparations to the descendants of slaves. To the slaves themselves, fine. But this happened 150 years ago. At some point there has to be a cut-off.

And as you point out - these companies were acting within the law at the time. Should we be suing companies now who used child labour before such laws came in to prevent it?

The suits have no legal or moral basis. They represent an effort to shake down large companies, using embarassment as a weapon. They may succeed. Companies may prefer to pay a cash settlement to make the public relations problem go away.

The suits polarize our society by race, which is bad for everyone.

I don’t understand this. I’m wondering, how were the slaves harmed by being insured? I mean, I sort of understand the general reperations argument…“This company benefited from and didn’t compensate the slave for his labor, and reperations would help pay for that.” But how does insuring a slave take anything from him or her?

I don’t understand it either, Captain, but the theory is that, but for insurance, the slave economy would have been less- or not at all economically feasible. Thus, the insurance companies allowed for or substantially aided the continuation of slavery in America.

Sua

Here’s a case where Unitrin Insurance Company just agreed to pay a settlement to a group of Black plaintiffs. However, the key facts are very different from the OP.

In the Unitrin case, there was alleged damage due to over-charging. The people who collected are the very ones who were allegedly damaged. Also, the insurance company allegedly did wrong by not settling some claims fairly.

These types of lawsuits have to benefit to society and should be outlawed as frivolous and a waste of courts time:

-There is no punitive benefit to be gained from suing over events that happened before any of the parties involved were even born. Especially true since slavary has been outlawed for some 150 years.

-This will do nothing to improve race relations and only serves to polarize communities and paint black people as victims in search of a handout.

-The only people who will be harmed are a) people insured by these companies today as their premiums will likely go up to cover the costs b) regular workers who don’t get raises this year because of someones frivolous lawsuit…

-Suing a giant corporation is not like suing a private individual. The company doesn’t care about being sued like you or I would. It is just another expense of doing business. The company does not “feel” like a person does, nor does it “learn a lesson”. it does whatever it is allowed to do to make money.

-Frivoulous lawsuits are a drain on society. They take capital away from businesses that would have been used for growth and new jobs and gives them to people who will likely crap the money away in a few years. As wisely as these people may save their lawsuit winnings, I doubt they will be creating new businesses or jobs for anyone.

I heard an NPR report on this issue this morning. In it, a black woman said “This shows that we are not a one-color society, as some people keep trying to pretend we are.” What? How do 150 year old documents say anything about the society we live in today? And who says we’re a “one-color society”? It struck me as a huge leap of logic. Then she said “This is written proof of the subjugation of my ancestors.” Well, yes; yes, it is. But I don’t think anyone was denying that blacks were enslaved prior to emancipation, so it’s “proof” of a fact that everyone knows to have been a fact.

I just don’t get the argument here. Before the Civil War, black people were held as slaves and were considered property. No sane person disputes or denies this. Why the surprise to then find that some of them were insured? We ensure property today as well, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

To me, the documents underscore that, yes, real living breathing people really did suffer in slavery, and, yes, they were considered mere property and were even insured as such. So they are an important addition to the narrative on slavery, in that they add color and reality to the idea of slavery, which for most of us is usually comfortably abstract.

But I don’t see how they bolster the idea of reparations. I don’t see how they ever could.

Not much of a debate here, I guess.

To me it’s such a huge step backward-it positively smacks of “Sins of the Fathers” arguements…

FTR I too think this lawsuit is frivolous and ridiculous as has already been pointed out in the threads above.

Just to play Devil’s Advocate though I heard an explanation of how people today feel they are entitled to compensation for what happened long before they were born. Essentially slavery cast black people in a light as second class (actually worse) citizens (I use the word citizen loosely). Once slavery was ended the sense of black people as second class citizens has persisted. This directly impacts black people alive today hence they can claim damages.

I agree. Many Japanese Americans who were interned are alive today and, to my mind, would have a direct claim to damages. Jews who had assets seized are merely seeking the return of what was wrongfully taken. A more apt analogy to the Jews would be a Jewish person suing Egypt over the expulsion of the Jews however many thousand years ago for the pain and suffering his/her people were subjected to under the Pharohs.

The problem underlying all this is, as msmith points out: << Suing a giant corporation is not like suing a private individual. The company doesn’t care about being sued like you or I would. It is just another expense of doing business. The company does not “feel” like a person does, nor does it “learn a lesson”. it does whatever it is allowed to do to make money. >>

The corporation will take whatever course is cheapest. It is usually cheaper to “settle” by paying out (say) a $100,000 rather than fight a suit that might cost many hundreds of thousands in lawyers’ fees. If the company feels that the suit will really be thrown out as “frivilous” on the first go-around, they may not settle for fear of setting a precedent. But if they think the case has enough “discussable” points, it is almost always cheaper to settle rather than fight.

Sadly, however, this leads to more and more cases being “settled” in favor of idiotic and obnoxious abuses of the legal system.

Next week: Small farm owners sue the US government for damages done during Sherman’s march to the sea.

I want some money for having relatives die freeing slaves. Plus the Romans kept killing some of my ancestors. And those pesky British during the 1770’s. Give me money!

I don’t think it’s solely being ex-slaves that makes an ethnic population second-class citizens. It’s being migrants rather than conquerors. Or being a conquered people (such as Australian aborigines). Or being from a much poorer country and arriving in a new country with far less money, education etc than that country’s current majority/ruling population.

However, this “second class citizen” status is due to the institution of slavery and the official recognition of blacks as property, not the result of insurance companies providing the service of insuring that property. So, any arguments regarding the persistence of said status should be directed at the government under which the institution was acceptable instead of a corporation acting within the laws set by that government.

Shhh. Don’t give the lawyers any new ideas.

I think the lawsuits are a great idea. At the very least the discovery process will provide more pieces to the slavery puzzle. At the most it will provide a hard and exhaustive look at this period of history that has been largely swept under the rug by people that want to forget that this ever happened.
From the article…

Slave labor “subsidized America’s development, and we’re seeking recovery,” Jackson said, noting that his group is “talking to people in New York, Georgia, Texas and Illinois.”

There’s no denying that this is true and I agree that recovery is in order especially since after slavery ended and “defacto” slavery began, blacks have been systematically denied the benefits of “white” soceity.

Slavery may have ended 150 or so years ago but the fallout still remains today i.e. discrimation(racial profiling, redlining, etcetera).

“At the most it will provide a hard and exhaustive look at this period of history that has been largely swept under the rug by people that want to forget that this ever happened.”

—Swept under the rug?! That must be the world’s smallest and most transparent rug, as slavery and the whole Civil War era is probably the most hotly-discussed historical topic in the U.S!

EASYPHIL –

First, as a general proposition, I don’t believe that lawsuits exist to (or shoudl be used to) shine a spotlight on a particular issue, simply because people feel more dialogue is in order. Second, it is unlikely that “discovery” into factual matters now more that 150 years old will provide new pieces to the puzzle. (And, by the way – what puzzle is that?) Third, and as EVE said, I think it is laughable to say that American society has “swept that period of history under the rug.” It is probably the period of American history that recieves the most scrutiny.

I find the idea that blacks live in de facto slavery to be laughable. It indicates a lack of understanding of either the term “de facto” or the word “slavery.” Things may not be perfect for black Americans – and I do not argue they are – butde facto slavery? Please. And the fact that the ancestors of black Americans contributed to the building of this nation without recompense does not explain why modern black Americans should be entitled to receive money for damages they have not suffered themselves.

This does not explain why “reparations” are in order. If racism is still a problem in American society, then it must be addressed as what it is – a societal problem. But there is no modern existing person or entity that has caused damages to another modern existing person or entity such as would support a claim for damages as law.

From the article…

Slave labor “subsidized America’s development, and we’re seeking recovery,” Jackson said, noting that his group is “talking to people in New York, Georgia, Texas and Illinois.”

There’s no denying that this is true and I agree that recovery is in order especially since after slavery ended and “defacto” slavery began, blacks have been systematically denied the benefits of “white” soceity.

Slavery may have ended 150 or so years ago but the fallout still remains today i.e. discrimation(racial profiling, redlining, etcetera).

Yes swept under the rug…Take the movie “The Patriot”, for example, no real coverage of slavery in the movie, though it did exist during that time and was a part of those characters lives.

The Civil War era may be a hotly discussed topic, but the focus isn’t on slavery and how blacks were treated.

Compliance with the law, hmmm, the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen states of America opened with:

*When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…*

Clearly black people were “men” then, and any laws, actions that occurred that were not in compliance with the fundamental principle of the formation of the United States can’t possibly be just laws or actions.