In North Carolina, people who immigrated illegally to the U.S. can still collect workers’ compensation, per the 1999 case of Rivera v. Trapp. The North Carolina Court of Appeals in that matter decided that immigrants without legal status in the U.S. are treated no differently in determining their right to workers’ compensation benefits.
A number of other cases have arisen in recent years that challenge an employer’s responsibility to continue the payment of benefits, particularly in the long term. Generally, courts have held that it is the employer’s burden to produce evidence showing there are suitable jobs the worker is capable of doing, “but for” his or her illegal immigration status (see Gayton v. Gage Carolina Metals, Inc., 149 N.C. App. 346, 349 (2002)).
North Carolina isn’t the only state to grapple with this issue. The Indiana Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments in the case of Escamilla v. Shiel Sexton Co., which asks about the types of relief to which undocumented workers are entitled – and for how long – when they are injured on the job.
According to court records, the plaintiff was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when he was a teenager, along with his family. He lived with his family in Nevada, working in masonry labor for several years before he relocated to Indiana. He again found work with several masonry companies. He obtained a social security number that he used to pay taxes on his income, but that number was not actually his own.
He was, at the time of his work injury, an undocumented immigrant.
In December 2010, the plaintiff was working at a masonry company in Indiana where the defendant was the general contractor. While the plaintiff was lifting a heavy piece of stone, he slipped and fell on ice. A physician who treated him permanently restricted him from lifting more than 20 pounds.
He was a father of three American children. He filed a personal injury lawsuit against the general contractor, seeking $29,000 for previous medical bills and between $578,000 and $947,000 in future lost wages.
In the course of this case, the plaintiff’s immigration status became a central issue. Indiana courts have thus far ruled against him.
A question before the state supreme court is whether the plaintiff’s immigration status should have been allowed as evidence and whether the trial court was right to limit the expert witness testimony regarding his future earnings to what he might have earned in Mexico, where he is legally allowed to work.
Although this is a personal injury lawsuit, as opposed to a workers’ compensation case, it has implications in both realms with regard to determining long-term disability benefits.
Our workers’ compensation attorneys in Charlotte recognize that any legal matters having to do with illegal immigration are politically charged. However, the bottom line is whether companies that employ workers who are not legally allowed to live and work in the U.S. should be on the hook when those workers are injured. The courts have thus far ruled that they are.
The Escamilla case is being closely watched by attorneys for both workers’ compensation and construction injury clients. In many cases, the issue of one’s immigration status is prejudicial. The question then becomes whether its probative value is outweighed by the harm.
Our experienced North Carolina work injury lawyers will give all potential clients an honest look at the possible value and viability of their claim.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Escamilla v. Shiel Sexton Co., March 31, 2016, Indiana Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Hudspeth Regional v. Mitchell – Return to Work and Rebuttable Presumption of Loss of Earning Capacity, Nov. 1, 2016, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog