Press Releases

Assembly Approves Hertzberg Bill to Eliminate Discrimination in Civil Damage Awards

SB 41 will prohibit the practice of granting historically marginalized groups lower damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases

July 1, 2019

SACRAMENTO – Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) announced that his bill to bring greater equity to civil damage awards, SB 41, cleared a major hurdle today by unanimously passing the California State Assembly.

Under current law, when it comes time to calculate the damages for a plaintiff who has brought forward a personal injury or wrongful death case, forensic economists often predict the individual’s lost earnings and wages using data based on that person’s membership in a protected class. Because marginalized groups such as women and people of color have historically earned less than their counterparts, the result of this practice is often that the damages they receive are substantially lower.

The Washington Post details a 2016 case where a 4-year old boy sought damages because he suffered neurological damage after living in an apartment illegally coated with lead paint. The boy’s attorneys estimated that he should be awarded $3.4 million – the amount he would have earned over his lifetime – while the landlord’s attorneys argued that he should only be awarded $1.5 million, because as a Latino, he was unlikely to attain the advanced education that would garner the larger income.

“Californians deserve a justice system that doesn’t let courts value people based on their gender or the color of their skin,” said Senator Hertzberg. “This practice perpetuates systemic inequity, and it tells companies that if you do bad things in poor communities with disadvantaged populations, your financial liability will be smaller.”

SB 41, sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California, would eliminate this practice by prohibiting the calculation of damages of a plaintiff from being reduced based on race, ethnicity, or gender.

The bill next heads back to the Senate Floor for concurrence before going to Governor Newsom’s desk for signature.

Media Contact: Katie Hanzlik
Press Secretary
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 313
(916) 651-4018