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Can an Undocumented Worker File a Personal Injury Claim?

Undocumented workers face unrelenting and increasingly severe challenges, but they are still protected by many of the same safety laws and regulations as documented workers in the United States.

These workers are referred to using many inappropriate and racially charged names, including illegal immigrant and undocumented alien – names that seek to push down these peoples’ basic rights. But these morally repugnant names fail to recognize the fact that these people are entitled to the same protections as others in our country, including those laws and rights in New York that protect workers who are injured on the job.

Balbuena v. IDR Realty LLC, Maglinger v. Cassino Construct Corp., and Labor Law Protections

Back in 2006, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that undocumented workers could recover for loss of earnings in a personal injury lawsuit, in certain circumstances, despite the fact that they were not legally authorized to work in the United States.

In the joint appeal of Balbuena v. IDR Realty LLC and Maglinger v. Cassino Construct Corp., the Court needed to determine,

“whether an undocumented alien injured at a work site as a result of state Labor Law violations is precluded from recovery of lost wages due to immigration status.”

In its ruling, the Court looked into whether or not federal immigration laws overruled the state’s right to protect its citizens. In its final decision, the Court concluded that the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) did not expressly preempt NY State Law, stating that Labor Law § 240 and § 241 were clearly put in place to protect workers from harm, and that Labor Law applies to every worker, regardless of their documentation status. In its decision, the Court wrote that,

“limiting a lost wage claim by an injured undocumented alien would lessen an employer’s incentive to comply with the Labor Law [§ 240 and § 241] and supply all of its workers the safe workplace that the legislature demands.”

However, these protections do not cover every single case. In its decision, the Court noted that an injured worker may not be able to recover for lost earnings in a where the worker submitted false documentation when applying for the job and that their employers sufficiently vetted and verified the false documentation and found that it checked out. However, in Coque v. Wildflower Estates Development, the Appellate Division, Second Department ruled that submitting false documentation,

“is sufficient to bar a recovery for lost wages only where that conduct actually induces the employer to hire the worker, and that this circumstance is not present where the employer knew or should have known of the worker’s undocumented status or failed to verify the worker’s eligibility for employment as required by federal legislation… we conclude that where an employer violates the IRCA in hiring an employee, such as by failing to verify the employee’s eligibility to work, the employee is not precluded, by virtue of his submission of a fraudulent document to the employer, from recovery damages for lost wage as a result of a workplace accident.”

At The Perecman Firm, our NYC construction accident attorneys are committed to protecting the rights of all injured victims, regardless of their immigration status. We have dedicated our careers to ensuring that workers throughout New York City receive the legal protection they deserve, and will fight to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. Send us information about your case through our online form, or call us at (212) 577-9325 to discuss your situation over the phone today.

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