How Do Immigration Status and Personal Injury Affect Each Other?

Laurence Mandell discusses immigration status and personal injury law.

Immigration status and personal injury law – does one affect the other? The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides every person in the U.S. the right to equal protection under this country’s laws, regardless of current immigration status. Furthermore, the Civil Rights Act also guarantees the right to receive compensation from a negligent party who caused harm to another, regardless of the injured party’s immigration standing. Consequently, anyone has the legal right to sue for personal injuries suffered through the fault of another, regardless of his or her immigration status.This does not mean, however, that immigration status and personal injury claims can always be separated.

Immigrant workers injured on the job may have a more complicated situation when seeking lost wages since federal law prohibits the employment of those who have entered the U.S. illegally. Fortunately, California’s workers’ compensation laws specifically make immigration status irrelevant to a compensation claim, except with respect to those remedies prohibited by federal law. Workers’ compensation covers medical costs of injuries and, possibly, lost wages. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that illegal aliens are not entitled to reinstatement or back pay for work never performed. Subsequent courts have limited this ruling, however, and allowed illegal workers back pay for work already performed.

Not All Worker Protections Are Available to Undocumented Workers

This means that reinstatement, front pay and remedy such as lost earning capacity based on U.S. wages may not be available. All other remedies, including punitive damages, emotional distress damages, other compensatory damages, statutory penalties, and injunctive relief should remain fully available to undocumented plaintiffs. Such compensation can be sought through a typical personal injury lawsuit, a workers’ compensation and/or a third-party claim (if an injury on the job was caused by someone other than the injured party’s employer).

Despite the availability of remedies, there may be reasons why a plaintiff would not want his or her immigrant status revealed in a lawsuit. The fact that a victim is in the U.S. illegally ⎯ and therefore has no legal right to work ⎯ could be raised as a defense in a claim for lost wages. Naturally, this will highlight a victim’s illegal immigration status, putting the plaintiff at risk of criminal prosecution and deportation. Furthermore, many juries may base their awards on the feeling that an illegal plaintiff was never entitled to wages in the first place.

Laws Are Changing

In an important recent development in California, effective January 1, 2017, attorneys in personal injury lawsuits cannot inquire about nor can they introduce evidence regarding a personal injury victim’s immigration status. Assembly Bill 2159, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, prohibits discovery or admission of evidence regarding immigration status except where relevance can be demonstrated. Immigration status and personal injury recovery cannot be tied together without proof of relevance.

The Legal System is Complex. Seek Professional Help to Navigate It.

These issues alone make it vital that careful consideration is given to each injured victim’s specific situation in an effort to determine the best approach to pursuing just compensation for injuries received on the job. Thus, although anyone is entitled to justice if someone else’s negligence caused them harm, it is particularly important for those with questionable immigration status to have proper legal representation in a personal injury case. A qualified personal injury attorney will ensure a fair trial and full consideration of a victim’s immigration situation when pursuing compensation.

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Let Laurence Mandell Help You Evaluate Your Case

Laurence Mandell is the managing partner of The Mandell Law Firm, an aggressive personal injury and wrongful death law firm in Woodland Hills, California serving clients throughout the San Fernando Valley, the Greater Los Angeles area and Southern California. Experienced and reputable, our attorneys provide hands-on care and sincere commitment to victims of personal injury of all kinds, including accidents and negligence. If you’re considering filing a personal injury claim, contact Laurence Mandell for a free consultation at 818.886.6600.

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