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Immigration Status and its Effect on the Right to Sue for Personal Injury

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, in 2012, an estimated 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States illegally, up from 11.3 million in 2009. The report estimates that approximately 1.75 million of these unauthorized immigrants live in Texas, accounting for 15% of the unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. Moreover, Pew stated that among the six states with the largest numbers of immigrants here illegally, only Texas had a consistent increase in illegal immigration from 2007 to 2011, due in part to its stronger economy. Since many of these immigrants are employed in high-risk occupations, they are at an increased risk to become involved in industrial accidents resulting in personal injury.

Notably, in the U.S., the court system is available to all, and undocumented immigrants have the right to sue those who injure them as a result of negligence. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process and equal protection of the law to both U.S. citizens and non-citizens. In fact, the term “person” under the 14th Amendment includes U.S. citizens, lawfully admitted residents, and undocumented immigrants. In addition, 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 means that a person’s immigration status should not preclude his or her right to file a lawsuit in a U.S. or Texas court to recover damages for personal injuries.

Types of Damages Available to Undocumented Immigrants

In a personal injury case the following types of damages may be available: compensation for medical expenses, lost wages or income, and mental pain and suffering. In some jurisdictions, courts have found that allowing the award of back pay and lost wages to undocumented immigrants in personal injury cases circumvents the U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“ICRA”). However, courts in Texas have repeatedly reaffirmed the proposition that Texas law does not require citizenship or the possession of immigration work authorization permits as a prerequisite to recovering damages for lost earning capacity.

Most recently, in 2012, Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas held that ICRA does not preclude undocumented workers from recovering damages, including lost wages, for Texas tort claims. In Grocers Supply, Inc. v. Cabello, three undocumented immigrants sued Grocers Supply and one of its drivers for injuries sustained in an accident with a Grocers Supply truck. The court ruled that IRCA regulates employers and undocumented immigrants seeking, or engaging in, unauthorized employment, and was not intended to regulate personal injury tort claims. As such, undocumented immigrants, like U.S. residents, could recover tort damages, including lost wages.

A personal injury can be caused by a workplace accident, in a car wreck, by a faulty or defective product, a medical mistake, a construction accident, and an animal attack, among other scenarios. If you have been injured, the San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin and Shaw can help you recover just compensation for monetary, physical or psychological damages regardless of your immigration status. We have access to translators that can assist with most language barriers. Contact all us toll free at 1-800-862-1260.


As economy rebounds, illegal immigration on the rise, by Hope Yen, The Associated Press

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