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Does Immigration Status Affect the Right To Sue for Personal Injury in California?

Immigration status does not affect the right to sue for injuries suffered due to the negligence of another.

An important issue commonly facing workers and individuals or families injured by others is whether immigration status affects rights to recover benefits under the California Workers Compensation Act or the right to sue in court to recover damages.

It is not uncommon for employers, insurers and others to attempt to intimidate injured workers to prevent them from accessing benefits by threatening to bring into question immigration status of the injured worker, witnesses or co-workers. Such behavior is not only wrong, but has no basis in the law.

Your Constitutional Rights

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to every person within the borders of the United States, regardless of citizenship, the right to equal protection under the law.

The Civil Rights Act ensures that all persons within the borders of the U.S. are guaranteed the right to bring lawsuits against those that cause them injury without regard to whether they are in the country legally or not. This is important because those without settled immigration status or those out of status are often most vulnerable and adversely affected by an interruption in income caused by a serious injury.

California law adopts this view. "For purposes of enforcing state labor, employment, civil rights, and employee housing laws, a person's immigration status is irrelevant to the issue of liability...."

For example, the California Legislature has explicitly applied all protections, rights, and remedies available under the California Labor Code to all individuals - citizens and aliens - who have applied for jobs or who have worked and been employed in the State. While the Legislature has yet to be as explicit in the area of personal injury, it is notable that there has been at least one California reported case holding that evidence of a patient's immigration status is irrelevant when he sues a doctor for medical malpractice.

Aside from the immigration status of injured persons or their families who may need to pursue legal action, the status of witnesses, such as co-workers may be at issue. Witnesses with crucial information about an incident often are reticent for fear that questions about their immigration status might predispose a judge or jury against them or, worse, bring trouble to them if they come forward. Fortunately, strong protections are in place to ensure that witnesses with relevant information and litigants with legitimate claims are able to access the court system.

What does this all mean?

In general, whether a person is in the United States lawfully or unlawfully, immigration status should not preclude one's right to file a lawsuit in a U.S. or California court to recover damages for personal injuries sustained.

Workers, individuals and families injured because of the fault of others are entitled to the same access to the courts as anyone in the U.S. The immigration status of witnesses does not automatically make them unreliable and should not deter them from coming forward to speak the truth. California law, our constitution and numerous appellate court decisions contain strong protections for workers, individuals, their families and witnesses, which ensure equal access to the courts.

With decades of legal experience, our attorneys are prepared to represent anyone regardless of citizenship status who have been injured by another's negligence.

Immigration and personal injury are highly complex areas of the law and when they intersect claims can become incredibly difficult. If you would like to discuss your case with our Riverside or San Bernardino lawyer's to learn more about how we can help, contact Peach & Weathers, initial consultation is free to you.

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