NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Slave Insurance Policies May Open Legal Pandora's Box

January 4, 2001

Before slavery was abolished in the U.S. 135 years ago, some land owners took out insurance policies on the slaves they owned. Now some descendants of slaves are considering demands for reparations if insurance companies paid off the claims.

Experts say the suits could be a legal nightmare.

  • A law came into effect January 1, 2001, in California which obliges American insurance firms to cooperate with investigations into such slave insurance policies.
  • Information is being demanded of Aetna -- the largest U.S. insurer -- as well as Ace and New York Life Insurance.
  • Some black Americans are making claims of as much as $4 trillion as compensation for the injustices their ancestors suffered.
  • A group of well-known lawyers -- both black and white -- plans to file a class-action lawsuit in the next few months.

It is unclear who, if anyone, would be held responsible. Would it be insurance companies or U.S. taxpayers who would be forced to hand over money?

In October, a survey by the University of Chicago and Harvard University found that 53 percent of the blacks it asked thought the government should cough up the cash.

Source: "The Children of Slavery," Economist, December 23, 2000.


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