Undocumented immigrants can bring personal injury lawsuits in Louisiana

Oct 11, 2014 - Articles - by Dodson & Hooks, APLC

The U.S. has always been a land of immigrants. In some cases, people immigrate to the U.S. without the proper documentation. When undocumented immigrants are injured while living in Louisiana or other parts of the U.S., they may wonder if they have the right to bring a lawsuit to recover for their injuries.

No citizenship requirements

Being a U.S. citizen has never been a requirement for filing a lawsuit in U.S. courts. In general, a person who has suffered an injury due to the negligence of another may file suit for damages in either the place where the injury occurred or where the defendant lives. If a person was injured in the U.S., he or she has a right to file a lawsuit to recover for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, lost future wages, disfigurement and other damages – regardless of whether he or she was in the country legally at the time.

Undocumented immigrants may worry that if they try to bring a lawsuit that the other party’s attorney will report them to the government. However, it is unethical for attorneys to threaten criminal or deportation actions in order to gain leverage in a civil case.

On-the-job injuries

Some have questioned whether undocumented immigrants may recover damages from their employers if they are injured at work, given that they are not supposed to be working in the U.S. in the first place. The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana addressed this issue in a case where an undocumented immigrant who was working in a shipyard suffered an injury and sought benefits.

His employer initially paid temporary disability benefits, but stopped once it discovered the man was undocumented. The employee then filed for benefits under the federal Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act. An administrative law judge found that the man was unable to work due to his injury and awarded benefits – noting that his immigration status had nothing to do with his injury.

The employer appealed the decision all the way to the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the employee should not receive benefits because of the fact that since he was not legally allowed to work in the U.S., he had no earning to capacity to lose which justified compensation. The court disagreed, however, after examining the language of the statue, which said that “[c]ompensation under the [the LHWCA] to aliens not residents (or about to become nonresidents) of the United States or Canada shall be the same in amount as provided for residents.”

Also, the LHWCA is a substitute for tort claims. Since undocumented immigrants have the right to bring tort claims, they also have the right to substitute their tort claims for recovery under the LHWA.

Talk to an attorney

Being in the U.S. without documentation does not mean a person loses the right to recover if injured by the negligence of another. Nor does it mean that maritime employers need not pay benefits to undocumented employees who are injured on the job. If you have been injured in an accident, speak with an accomplished personal injury attorney who can help you obtain the compensation you need to help you recover for your injuries.

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