If you’re female, your face is worth 48-67% more than mine

If you’re a young woman, your face is worth between 48-67% more than that of a young man.

That’s the gist of the Judicial College’s Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases, 12th Edition (2013) – one of the canonical texts used by lawyers.

For ‘Very Severe Scarring’ ‘in relatively young women (typically teens to early 30s), where the cosmetic effect is very disfiguring and the psychological reaction severe’, the suggested range of damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity (what lawyers call ‘general damages’) is £39,160 – £78,650. The corresponding figures for males (‘especially in males under 30’) are £24,090 – £53,075.

The editors of the Guidelines are embarrassed by the discrepancy. They point out that it arises from ‘cases that stretch back into the mists of time’, but that  it is ‘nonetheless open to serious doubt that gender itself can be a proper or indeed lawful factor in determining the level of general damages.’ The embarrassment is appropriate. Gender in itself should not be relevant. The Guidelines list the relevant factors: they include ‘the subjective impact of the disfigurement upon the claimant and the extent to which it adversely affects the claimant’s social, domestic and work lives’.

Should the Guidelines declare that, as a matter of policy, the law should refuse to distinguish between facial scarring in males and in females? That, one might think, is an appropriate way for the law to declare its gender-blindness: it might help to nudge society (which the law leads, as well as reflects) in the right direction. But that would be wrong: the fact is that, whether we like it or not, facial scarring matters more to women. We should do our best to change the attitudes that make this the case, but it is the case, and in compensating claimants, judges should not pretend that we live in a liberal utopia in which people are not judged (by themselves and others) on the basis of the shape or colour of their face. Similarly, when assessing damages for loss of earnings, the law should not pretend that the legislation which prohibits discrimination on grounds of disability actually works.

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3 Responses to If you’re female, your face is worth 48-67% more than mine

  • Anthony Drinkwater says:

    I agree, Charles, that facts matter, and that it is true that facial scarring appears to be more prejudicial to women than men.
    However, I do have a slight doubt :
    How does the Judicial College’s guideline square with the European Court of Justicé’s ruling that it is unlawful to charge different premiums to women for motor insurance, even though it is a fact that women are less likely to make claims ?
    (And on the same subject, will the critics of ageism argue that it should be unlawful to charge younger drivers more than older ones ?)

  • Charles Foster says:

    Anthony: many thanks. I don’t think that the present JC Guidelines square at all with the Strasbourg Court’s ruling about motor insurance premiums, although as a matter of fact I think that Strasbourg had it right. Law can be and often should be the motor of attitudinal change. De Valera said something along the lines of: ‘We must act at all times as if a United Ireland is a reality. And if we do that it will be a reality’. That’s a powerful and realistic thought – the thought behind the Strasbourg decision. But there are limits: you shouldn’t use the shattered face and psyche of an RTA victim to make people think the right things about gender stereotyping. The purpose of compensation in the law of tort is to put the victim in the position in which she would have been had the tort not occurred, not to be the agent of societal transformation.

  • Theeb says:

    What about if he is bloody handsome and his profession depends on his handsomeness. In contrast, what about if she is not exactly gorgeous and she works in desert as a petroleum engineer. I think it is just a gender discrimination.

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