Can an undocumented worker (illegal immigrant) file a personal injury lawsuit for any type of personal injury situation? For years, illegal immigrants were afraid to stand up for themselves because they felt that filing a lawsuit
would surely mean deportation.
The main reason for this fear is the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) which made it difficult to be an illegal immigrant in this country. The issue with personal injury lawsuits and the fate of the undocumented worker is particularly sensitive in New York State because of the sharp rise in illegal immigrant workers. Throughout the United States, illegal immigrants make up 5.1 percent of the workforce. In the New York construction industry, a growing number of non-union construction jobs are being given to undocumented workers who cannot speak English and do not know the American legal system.
Are Undocumented Workers Protected?
The issue at the heart of the discussion about illegal immigrants and personal injury lawsuits is whether the federal IRCA laws preempt the state statutes regarding working conditions and personal injuries. While the issues regarding undocumented workers fighting for back pay or to get compensated for injuries and illegal immigrants trying to recover money lost due to a car accident are similar in nature, they do fall under two different umbrellas when it comes to immigration laws.
In 2006, a New York State appeals court overturned two separate rulings that prevented undocumented workers from being paid for their injuries and back wages. The court decided that the federal IRCA laws did not preempt the state regulations, and the illegal immigrant workers were able to recover the monies that they were owed. If the federal laws cannot preempt the state laws in the case of undocumented workers, then what about an illegal immigrant thinking of filing a lawsuit to recover damages due to a personal injury?
Separating Federal And State Laws
When New York courts attempt to rule on cases involving the separation of state and federal laws, they usually start their search by looking for some type of precedent. In May 2016, the Superior Court in Connecticut was asked to look at a case where an illegal immigrant was denied a settlement in a personal injury case because of their illegal status. The lawyer for the plaintiff argued that their client’s immigration status had no bearing on the case, while the defense argued that the IRCA prevented any illegal alien from filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Since most personal injury lawsuits in any state are filed under state laws, once again the question of whether or not the federal laws preempt state laws was on the line. As with the case in New York, the Connecticut court ruled that the IRCA had no bearing on state laws regarding personal injury lawsuits. Not only was the federal immigration status of the plaintiff not pertinent in a personal injury case, but it was not even a question that was allowed to be asked during the proceedings.
The bottom line in a situation involving illegal immigrants and personal injury lawsuits is that, in many cases, a lawsuit is the only way that illegal immigrants can get justice if they are injured due to someone else’s negligence. In the past, most illegal immigrants have avoided filing lawsuits for fear of getting arrested and deported. This allowed employers and the public at large to take advantage of undocumented workers.
In the case of a personal injury lawsuit, it is designed to help people get compensation when they have been wronged by someone else in some way. Whether the person who has been affected is an illegal immigrant or not should not enter into the proceedings. With courts in New York and Connecticut agreeing that federal laws do not preempt state laws in personal injury cases, it is safe to say that more illegal immigrants will be seeking the justice they deserve through the courts.
The short answer to the question of whether or not an undocumented immigrant can file a personal injury lawsuit in the state of New York appears to be yes. However, it should be noted that the courts are going to take a look at these situations on a case-by-case basis to see which laws apply. But with the precedence that has been established in New York and Connecticut, illegal immigrants can feel confident that they can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages from a negligent person without the fear of federal repercussions.