Can an undocumented immigrant obtain monetary recovery for a personal injury claim in California? Under a new law that was passed, courts will no longer be allowed to inquire about plaintiffs’ immigration statuses in personal injury cases. Previously, defendants were allowed to raise the immigration statuses of plaintiffs as a defense to the determination of lost earnings. The new law passed in February, 2016.
The old law: Rodriguez v. Kline
For the past 30 years in California, plaintiffs who were not in the country legally had to compute their future earnings that were lost according to what they would have earned in their countries of origin. Often, this amount would be substantially less than the calculation would be for future lost earnings in the U.S. The rule came from the case of Rodriguez v. Kline, which was decided on appeal in 1986.
Factual background of the case
The plaintiff, Jesus Rodriguez, was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident that happened on Oct. 23, 1979. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in Rodriguez’s favor, awarding damages in the amount of $99,000. A portion of the damages was based on Rodriguez’s calculated amount for the earnings he might have made if he had not been injured in the accident. Rodriguez had entered the U.S. illegally and had lived and worked in the country for two decades prior to the accident. The defendant, Samuel Kline, appealed the amount of damages that was awarded to the plaintiff. He argued that since Rodriguez was in the country illegally, his future expected income amount should have been calculated according to the prevailing wages in Mexico rather than in the U.S.
Ruling by the Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals of California ruled for the defendant. The three-judge panel established a procedure that courts would have to take when a plaintiff’s immigration status was challenged before trial. A court would hold a pretrial hearing about the immigration status of a plaintiff whose status had been challenged by a defendant. At the hearing, the defendant would have the initial burden of providing evidence to the court that the plaintiff was potentially subject to deportation. The plaintiff would then have the burden of proving to the court that he or she had taken the necessary steps to remedy the condition rendering him or her subject to deportation.
The problem of the rule from Rodriguez v. Kline
While the ruling and how immigration status affects lost earnings calculations may seem fairly straightforward, a major problem existed because of the labyrinthine nature of the immigration laws. Immigration law has thousands of regulations, many of which are contradictory. This meant proving that the necessary steps had been taken to correct the deportable condition was almost impossible. Other issues included that some people have conditional residence statuses that could be removed. People who are lawful permanent residents may end up being deported for committing a variety of different offenses, and those who are in the country on the basis of marriage may be deported if their marriages are fraudulent, for example. This led to issues with plaintiffs who had lived in the U.S.
Because there are hundreds of reasons that might potentially lead to a person’s being deemed deportable even if he or she has a green card, some injured victims recovered far less than they otherwise would have simply because of the application of the rule handed down by the Rodriguez court.
The New Law on Undocumented Immigrant Personal Injury Claims in California
In 2016, the California legislature passed AB 2159, which adds section 351.2 to the California Evidence Code. The bill was signed into law by the governor and will go into effect in Feb. 2017. Under this new rule, a plaintiff’s immigration status is not admissible evidence at trial, and defendants may not seek discovery of the immigration statuses of the injured plaintiffs in personal injury matters. This means that lost income calculations are no longer allowed to take into account what the person would have earned if he or she had continued to live in his or her country of origin. Instead, the calculations will be based on what the injured victim might have earned in the U.S. but for his or her injuries that were caused in the accident.
Contact a personal injury attorney
Undocumented immigrants should not be afraid to seek the recovery of damages if they have been injured in accidents in California. The families of those who have been killed by the negligent actions of other drivers also should not be afraid. The law no longer will allow courts and defendants to explore the immigration statuses of people who are simply seeking to hold those who caused their accidents liable for their negligent actions. People may want to consult with an experienced California personal injury attorney about their own cases. An attorney may be able to advise his or her clients about the range of possible recovery amounts that might be expected in settlements, including calculations of lost income based on what the clients would have earned in the U.S. if they had not been injured.
Los inmigrantes indocumentados no deben tener miedo de buscar la recuperación de daños si han sido heridos en accidentes en California. Las familias de los que han sido asesinados por las acciones negligentes de otros conductores también no deben tener miedo. La ley ya no permitirá a los tribunales y acusados explorar los estatus de inmigración de las personas que simplemente están tratando de sostener a aquellos que causaron sus accidentes responsables de sus acciones negligentes. La gente puede querer consultar con un abogado de lesiones personales calificado de California sobre sus propios casos. Un abogado puede ser capaz de asesorar a sus clientes sobre el rango de posibles cantidades de recuperación que se podría esperar en los asentamientos, incluyendo los cálculos de la pérdida de ingresos sobre la base de lo que los clientes se han ganado en los EE.UU. si no se lesionó.