Can an Undocumented Worker File a Claim for Work-related Injuries?
If you are an undocumented worker, you likely came to this country in order to work. Based on 2010 Census figures, 2,336,076 Latinos lived in New York City alone, 33% originally from Puerto Rico, 34% from the Dominican Republic, and 13% from Mexico. Untold thousands found employment in the construction industry, and thousands more worked as cab drivers, food service workers, hotel and motel personnel and apartment complex maintenance and cleaning crewmen, and many others.
But what happens if you receive a work-related injury? Can you file for workers’ compensation and/or file a personal injury lawsuit? Despite what you may have heard from your employer or from friends and neighbors, the answer is yes, you can. In fact, you have every right to seek compensation for your injuries.
Civil Law Actions
Worker’s Compensation and personal injury lawsuits represent civil actions. Your immigration status does not, and by law cannot, impede your right to seek and receive compensation for your on-the-job or work-related injury expenses such as the following:
- Medical bills
- X-rays and other tests
- Medications and therapies
- Necessary medical equipment
- Rehabilitation expenses
- Home health care expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Cost of your expected future medical care
In addition, many so-called sanctuary cities such as New York City, San Francisco, and numerous others, have passed special legislation protecting undocumented workers like you from suffering retaliation of any sort if and when they seek compensation for their injuries.
Admittedly, these are scary times for undocumented immigrants. Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials have become considerably more active since the advent of the Trump administration. They have even taken to lurking in and around courthouses so as to detain undocumented immigrants going to and from court.
Again referencing New York, the Immigrant Defense Project reported that in the first four months of 2018, ICE made 17 arrests at New York City courthouses as opposed to only 19 during the preceding two-year period. Not surprisingly, a survey of New York legal service providers later in 2018 found that 75% of them said their clients were afraid to go to court because of the possibility of being picked up by ICE. In fact, a full 29% of the clients failed to appear in court at their scheduled hearings.
Asserting Your Rights
Despite such grim reports, you should not hesitate to contact an attorney should you get hurt on the job. Work-related injuries are usually covered by Workers’ Compensation, but you also have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit if for some reason you are ineligible for Workers’ Comp.
Rest assured that your attorney will go out of his or way to make sure that you are safe before, during, and after your court appearance(s). The Immigrant Defense Project recommends that attorneys take the following steps when representing undocumented workers:
- Minimize the number of court appearances you are required to attend
- Meet you in their offices or on another floor of the courthouse instead of in the courtroom where your hearing will be held
- Text you to coordinate where and when you will meet
Remember, the vast majority of ICE courthouse arrests and detainments take place in and around criminal courts, not civil courts.