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Does Your Immigration Status Affect Your Personal Injury Case?

A recent ruling by the Superior Court in Litchfield, Connecticut made it unlawful for defendants and their legal representation to inquire about a plaintiff’s immigration status or to ask the plaintiff about their entry into the country.

Every state has different laws about the application of immigration status information to a personal injury case. In Maryland, the citizenship status of the immigrant can be used to prevent certain kinds of compensation, unless the attorney acts first.

This precedent was set by Ayala v. Lee [1], a seemingly clear case involving injuries from a car accident. Ayala was one of two passengers in a car who, along with the driver, had to stop on the side of the road to fix the car’s windshield wipers when they stopped working during a heavy rainstorm. Though the driver had his hazard lights on and had clearly pulled off the side of the road, the parked car was struck from behind, killing the driver and seriously injuring Ayala and the other passenger.

During the case, it became known that Ayala was an undocumented immigrant, and had entered the United States through Texas and had illegally acquired a social security and permanent resident card. Though the court was concerned about the possibility that immigration status could cause bias against the plaintiff, the information was ultimately allowed because the court decided it could be used to determine the kind of compensation Ayala was eligible to receive; if he was not a citizen then he could not legally claim lost wages.

The Supreme Court of the United States has never considered whether an undocumented immigrant has the right to sue for personal injury cases, and the matter has been decided at the state level. All states allow undocumented immigrants to sue for some damages, but details of immigration status have different effects in different states. In most states it is up to the attorneys of the plaintiff and defendant to prove to the judge that immigration status does or does not matter for the case.

The state Supreme Court of Virginia has already ruled that immigration status is not relevant or permissible for personal injury cases. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that undocumented plaintiffs have access to full lost-wage benefits because if the lack of legal documentation did not stop the plaintiff from working before the injury, it would probably not stop the plaintiff from working after the injury. [2]

New York has a similarly unrestrictive stance on undocumented plaintiff’s ability to collect all kinds of damages, including lost wages. In 2006, the state rejected a construction company’s argument that an injured worker could not collect future wage damages because he was undocumented, and awarded the injured worker over $7 million in past and future damages. [3]

If you have suffered an injury as a result of a company or person’s negligence but are worried about filing a case because you are an undocumented immigrant, you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Call Gilman & Bedigian today at (800) 529-6162 to schedule your free consultation.

[1] Ayala v. Lee, 215 Md. App. 457, 81 A.3d 584 (2013)

[2] Peterson v. Neme, 281 S.E.2d 869 (1981)

[3] Hernandez v. 151 Sullivan Tenant Corp., 30 A.D.3d 187 (N.Y.A.D. 2006)

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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