Injuries sustained in a car accident, workplace accident, construction accident, or any other type of accident can dramatically affect a victim’s life. Some victims are unable to work. Others may face the loss of a limb or permanent disabilities.
Some lose the simple ability to play with their children or enjoy their hobbies. All of these are painful – and compensable – losses. Victims have the right to file a personal injury claim and seek compensation for these losses. Unfortunately, many victims are deterred from asserting this legal right because of their immigration status.
Injury victims have the right to file personal injury claims – regardless of their immigration status. California law also offers protections for plaintiffs without lawful immigration status. The experienced California personal injury attorneys at Arash Law know how to pursue claims for all injury victims, regardless of immigration status.
Call (888) 488-1391 today to schedule your free consultation.
Undocumented Immigrants and Personal Injury Claims
On August 17, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law to protect undocumented immigrants. This law protects information about a plaintiff’s immigration status. Not only is this evidence inadmissible at trial, but defendants cannot even ask about it during pretrial proceedings. This means that a defense attorney cannot ask about a plaintiff’s immigration status at any stage of a personal injury lawsuit.
Non-citizens can sue a United States citizen (or corporation). While this point of law is not settled in every state, there are many cases that have supported the right of a plaintiff to sue for personal injuries, regardless of his or her immigration status. In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that an undocumented immigrant did have the right to pursue a personal injury lawsuit regardless of his immigration status. The plaintiff in the case was Gorgonio Balbuena, a Mexican national and undocumented immigrant.
While working at a construction site, Balbuena suffered a severe head injury and other physical trauma. He was unable to work as a result. His claim was initially dismissed because he could not provide proof that he had legal authorization to work in the United States. Eventually, however, the appellate court realized how unfair that was, and clearly stated that his immigration status had no bearing on his right to sue for injuries.
Many other courts in states across the country have also been guided by this decision. In the case of TXI Transp. Co. v. Hughes, 306 S.W.3d 230 (Tex. 2010), the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that a person’s immigration status is not admissible for the purpose of accusing them of not telling the truth in court. (Before this case, a defense attorney could claim that an undocumented immigrant was less likely to tell the truth in court simply because he or she did not have lawful immigration status.) The Court made a powerful statement that “[a]ppeals to racial and ethnic prejudices…cannot be tolerated because they undermine the very basis of the judicial process.”
Things to Consider Before Deciding to File or Not to File a Personal Injury Claim
In order to successfully pursue a personal injury claim, you must prove: (1) that the defendant was legally at fault (“liable”) for causing your injuries, and (2) the value of the losses you have suffered (your “damages”).
The person who is legally at fault for causing an accident has a legal obligation to compensate the victim for all of his or her losses. This is why the victim must prove that the defendant was at fault for causing the accident. The defendant could be a negligent driver. It could be an employer who fails to train or supervise employees properly. It could be an auto manufacturer that sold a car with defective brakes. There are many potential defendants in a personal injury claim. An experienced accident attorney can help you identify who has a legal obligation to compensate you for your injuries.
It is essential to understand that more than one party can be liable for an accident. In a car accident, for example, two drivers could each be at fault for failing to see each other. In a workplace accident, an employee might be found partly at fault for failing to wear safety gear provided by the employer. A defendant only has to pay for the portion of damages that he or she caused.
If, for example, two drivers were each fifty percent at fault for an auto accident, one driver could only recover half of her total damages from the other driver. Partial liability can dramatically reduce the amount of compensation that is available to an injury victim. In some cases, it is so low that the victim chooses not to spend the time or money filing a personal injury lawsuit. Consult with an accident lawyer about your particular situation.
Recovering Damages for Your Injuries
The amount of your personal injury award will be determined by the value of your losses. If your injuries were minor, you may nor have had to miss work or endure a painful recovery. This will result in a small personal injury settlement. For some personal injury victims, it is not worth the time and hassle of a lawsuit to recover a small settlement. However: many injuries can quickly result in thousands of dollars of damages.
These are just some of the many losses that entitle you to compensation:
Medical bills: An injury can require years of medical treatment and rehabilitation. This is expensive. You are entitled to compensation for all the medical bills you have incurred as a result of the accident. You are also entitled to compensation for all the medical bills you are likely to incur in the future as a result of the accident. It can be difficult to estimate future medical expenses. Often, expert accountants and economists must project these calculations. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to find the right expert witnesses and present their testimony persuasively to the insurance company or jury.
Lost wages: Lost wages can also be complicated to calculate. In simple cases, lost wages are found by simply multiplying the employee’s hourly wage by the number of hours he or she missed due to the accident. (Salaries are prorated to a forty-hour workweek.) But in many cases, lost wages are far more complex. Employees are also entitled to compensation for bonuses or benefits they would have received but for the accident. Insurance companies are likely to fight these claims and demand proof that you would have received the bonus.
Injured employees are also entitled to any future income that they lose because of their injuries. This covers hours you will miss for future medical appointments. It also includes any decreases in your future earning capacity. If your injuries have forced you to work fewer hours, or in a position that is less physically demanding, you will likely be paid less. A negligent defendant must pay you the difference between your new (lower) income and what you would have been earning without your injuries. For injury victims who are permanently unable to work, this figure covers all wages the victim would have been able to make for the rest of his or her life. It also includes the value of benefits paid by an employer, such as health insurance or retirement contributions. These numbers add up quickly. This is why it is so important for injury victims to be represented by an experienced accident attorney who knows how to fight for the full value of your lost future income.
Loss of enjoyment of life: Injuries can have a dramatic impact on a victim’s daily life. Many victims are unable to exercise or participate in sporting activities. Some must give up hobbies that meant a lot to them. Some miss out on important family events, such as weddings or graduation ceremonies. Some must suffer the heartbreak of being unable to hold their children. Insurance companies ignore these losses altogether. Their settlement offers almost never cover the loss of enjoyment of life, yet these are often the most devastating losses a victim must endure.
In recent years, personal injury attorneys have made significant progress in helping juries understand the value of these intangible losses. Juries recognize the impact injuries have on a victim’s daily life, and their awards reflect it. This has encouraged claims adjusters to account for the loss of enjoyment of life when making settlement offers. An experienced accident attorney can help the insurance company or jury understand precisely how your injuries have affected your daily life.
Scars and disfigurement: Another intangible loss is the physical evidence of an accident. Scars and disfigurement can stay with a victim for the rest of his or her life. Smaller scars might not impair a victim’s daily activities, but they are still a compensable loss. More dramatic disfigurement (such as an amputated arm or leg) can change a victim’s life forever. An amputation could result in a career change, giving up hobbies, expensive medical care, and many other compensable losses. Whether big or small, disfigurement is a loss caused by the accident, and the defendant has a legal obligation to compensate you for it.
What Happens if You Don’t File a Claim?
The decision to file a personal injury claim is yours. An attorney can give you information and advise you, but ultimately, the decision is yours. Some undocumented immigrants choose not to get involved with the legal system at all. While this is certainly understandable, it is important to understand the consequences of not filing a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations will expire: Like all states, California has laws that limit the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. Lawsuits filed after that point can be dismissed immediately. The insurance company has no incentive to make a settlement offer because they know that you cannot file a lawsuit. If you choose to ignore your claim now, you might not have the option of changing your mind later. After the statute of limitations has run, your claim is lost forever.
You will be on the hook for all future medical expenses: As discussed, an injury victim is entitled to compensation for all future medical expenses he or she is likely to incur. These bills can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. No one – not even your doctors – can say for sure what medical care you will require in the future. If you do not file a personal injury claim, you will have to pay for all medical care you might need at any point in the future. This is not fair. Negligent defendants are legally obligated to compensate injury victims for their medical expenses.
You will not be compensated for your lost wages: Many victims miss at least some work as a result of their injuries, and defendants must compensate them for these lost wages. You do not know how much time you will miss from work as a result of an accident. You also do not know if your injuries will permanently affect your income. As we have discussed, your earning capacity can be dramatically reduced as a result of your injuries. This can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost income over your lifetime. Without a lawsuit, the defendant avoids his or her legal obligation to pay you for these lost wages.
The unknowns: As you can see, medical bills and lost wages can result in many unknown costs. There are also many other unknown costs you might experience as a result of your accident. What if you need physical therapy or chiropractic services after the accident? What if you need assistive devices, such as crutches or a wheelchair? What about the property damage to your car or other belongings? An experienced personal injury attorney will help you explore all of your losses so that you can be fairly compensated for them. Without the help of an attorney, medical professionals, and economic experts, it is nearly impossible to know what losses you have actually suffered.
Workplace Injuries and Undocumented Workers
Injured workers have legal rights! California law clearly states that an injured worker is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits – regardless of whether he or she has legal authorization to work in the country. This is an important law that stops employers from taking advantage of undocumented workers.
California law also protects undocumented workers from being denied overtime wages, back pay, or disability payments. California law and policy have consistently protected the rights of undocumented workers. While federal policy has recently become remarkably hostile toward all immigrants, it is good to know that our state chooses to protect immigrants and migrant workers – regardless of their legal status. Learn more about workers’ compensation rights for undocumented workers on our website.
Again, each injury victim must make his or her own decision about filing a personal injury claim. An immigration attorney can help answer questions you might have about the effect a lawsuit could have on your immigration status. But do not be bullied into silence. Understand your rights and how California law has been consistently applied to protect them. Let an experienced personal injury lawyer protect your legal right to be compensated for all the losses you have suffered.
At Arash Law, Our California Personal Injury Attorneys Represent Undocumented Immigrants
Injury victims suffer many different types of losses, and they have the legal right to be fully compensated for all of these losses, regardless of their immigration status. At Arash Law, we fight hard to secure compensation for all injury victims. Don’t let an employer, insurance company, or defense attorney bully you into forfeiting your legal rights. Call (888) 488-1391 or contact us online today to schedule your free consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys in California. We’re proud to serve the entire state and have offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, San Jose, Bakersfield and Fresno for your convenience.