Immigrants, Regardless of Their Status, Have the Right to Obtain Compensation in Personal Injury Lawsuits in New York
Over the years, I have consulted with more than one thousand individuals who have been injured as a result of negligence. Since I work at a law firm that also handles immigration matters, I have been asked countless times by my clients, “Does it matter that I am an immigrant?” The answer is no. Period.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from. If you are injured as a result of someone’s negligence you are permitted to receive money damages for your injuries, medical bills and time lost from work.
Immigrants, documented or not, are permitted to access the courts at least here in New York State.
I have been fighting for the rights of immigrants for my entire career as a personal injury attorney and couldn’t be prouder to continue in that tradition with Pollack, Pollack, Isaac & DeCicco (PPID), a firm that has played an important role in defending and upholding the rights of immigrants to the United States for almost 60 years.
As part of that fight PPID has been instrumental in changing the laws of New York by persuading the Court of Appeals of New York – the highest court in the State – to permit undocumented immigrants to collect lost earnings as part of their damages in a lawsuit.
Prior to the February 2006, there was much debate and uncertainty as to the legality of a worker’s ability to collect lost wages in a circumstance where that worker was not documented and thus not able to work legally in this country. This uncertainty stemmed from a decision called Hoffman Plastic Compounds Inc. v. NLRB , in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) could not award back pay to an undocumented alien even though he had been unlawfully terminated for his activity in supporting a union, at least in circumstances where the alien was not legally authorized to work in the United States.
The law in New York State got clarified in 2006 as part of an appeal filed by PPID in a case called Stanislaw Majlinger v. Casino Contracting Corp. One of the issues in dispute in that case was whether an injured plaintiff could recover lost earnings where he is an undocumented alien. Brian Isaac, the partner at PPID who is responsible for our appellate practice, made a compelling argument to the Court that immigrants (legal and illegal) have played a vital role in the U.S. labor force for virtually the entire history of our country. Some have official permission to work in this country; others, wishing to improve their lives and those of their families, though they cannot obtain certification, work in this country illegally. Hand in hand with our immigration practice, our firm argued that immigrants are entitled to legal protection under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), certain anti-discrimination laws (42 USC §2000e[f]), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) (29 USC §203[e]) and other applicable laws, even if they are here illegally. As a result of these arguments, legal and illegal immigrants now have equal access to the courts of New York State in seeking damages in a personal injury lawsuit.
Fearful of deportation, and usually knowing little about their legal rights, undocumented workers often strive to avoid conflicts and do not report improper work practices of employers. This makes undocumented workers more attractive to employers but also tends to increase the likelihood of their exploitation. Here at PPID we are very proud of the role we have played in changing the law in New York State so that undocumented workers have equal access to the courts to sue for damages. Now that immigrants have an equal right to collect damages for the losses suffered in an accident, this means employers have good reason to treat immigrant workers fairly, by providing necessary safety devices, proper wages and hours, etc. In short, we are very proud of the part we have played and continue to play in insuring that immigrants receive all the protections they are entitled to under New York and U.S. law.