Representing Disability in Tort Litigation: An Empirical Analysis of Judicial Discourse (1998-2018)

Sagit Mor, Rina B. Pikkel, Havi Inbar Lankry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study empirically examines whether and how the introduction of disability rights impacted the portrayal of disability in personal injury court decisions in Israel and offers a method for doing such research in other legal realms and contexts. We conducted a quantitative content analysis of Israeli district court judicial rulings over twenty years to measure whether a discursive shift occurred from a medical-individual view of disability to a social constructionist and a rights-based understanding of disability. Our coding system included descriptive and conceptual indicators, forming two indexes: a conventional index and a progressive index. Our findings reveal a steady dominance of the conventional discourse and a gradual yet limited rise in progressive discourse. Moreover, individual court decisions often manifest both types of discourse but are still dominated by a conventional view of disability and rarely apply direct disability rights terminology. These findings provide pioneering empirical evidence that substantiates the disability critique of tort law, demonstrating that judicial decision making is slow to adopt a disability rights perspective. More broadly, our findings show that the infusion of a disability rights orientation does not necessarily replace the older medical-individual view of disability but adds to it, resulting in a mixed discourse that includes both conventional and progressive elements.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number3
StatePublished - 22 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Bar Foundation.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


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