CAN AN UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT FILE A PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUIT? – Part I

According to a recent article in The New York Times, there are over 500,000 undocumented immigrants living in New York City. If you are one of them and recently have been injured in an accident and/or because a doctor or other health care professional acted in a negligent manner, you may be hesitant to contact an attorney to explore the possibility of filing a personal injury suit for fear of deportation.

Hispanic Research Inc. reports that based on 2010 census figures, New York City has the largest Latino population of any city in America. In 2010, 2,336,076 Latinos were living here. Of these, 33 percent were originally from Puerto Rico, 25 percent from the Dominican Republic, and 13 percent from Mexico. While the census does not include immigration status information, it is reasonable to believe that Latinos also represent the largest segment of undocumented immigrants in New York City.

Many Latinos come to New York to work. Thousands are employed in construction and other jobs. You may have been told by your employer or your coworkers that if you are injured on the job you must not report it because you will be deported. Friends and neighbors may have told you that if you are injured in an auto accident or other occurrence caused by someone else’s negligence, you have no right to file a personal injury lawsuit seeking to recover damages for your injury.

New York Law

Given the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, it is understandable that you might feel intimidated about seeking the compensation you deserve. However, the law in New York is clear. Undocumented immigrants have exactly the same legal rights as U.S. citizens and documented immigrants to sue for personal injury damages. Your immigration status has nothing to do with your right to avail yourself of the New York courts.

The New York Court of Appeals settled this issue in 2006 by its ruling in a case entitled Stanislaw Majlinger v. Casino Contracting Corp. In that case, the Court held that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 does not preempt New York laws that allow undocumented immigrants to seek damages in a personal injury lawsuit without fear of federal repercussions, such as arrest and/or detainment by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

In addition, the Trump administration, and therefore ICE agents, are focusing on “the bad ones,” meaning those undocumented immigrants who are charged with and convicted of a crime, whether a misdemeanor or felony. Or, as The New York Times stated in another article, immigration agents are focusing on picking up and removing undocumented immigrants who are criminal offenders and/or who are already living under a deportation order.

Personal Injury Civil Suits

This is completely different from undocumented immigrants who file a personal injury lawsuit seeking monetary damages to compensate them for what they have suffered as the result of an injury caused by the negligence of someone else. Such damages can include compensation for the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Medications and therapies
  • X-rays and other tests
  • Rehabilitation expenses
  • Medical equipment
  • Cost of expected future medical care
  • Home health care expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

Personal injury suits are a civil matter as opposed to a criminal matter. Your immigration status is not and cannot be a factor in determining the amount of damages you can receive. It certainly cannot be a factor that limits your rights to avail yourself of the New York courts and seek the compensation you deserve when you have suffered an injury.

Come back next week for Part II of this article…