Talk of undocumented immigrants has dominated media outlets nationwide. American citizens have an abundance of conflicting opinions that have divided the nation on topics of immigration policy and possible reform. A new decision made on the behalf of Indiana Supreme Court Justices will definitely generate further conversation due to their new ruling made a few weeks ago.
According to recent articles, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s decision to admit an undocumented plaintiff’s immigration status as evidence in a court of law for reduced earning capacity damages. The court justices decided to lay out a new framework for determining when immigration status can be admissible in the state of Indiana, all due to a personal injury case brought by a man against his contractors.
In December 2010, Noe Escamilla was assigned by his employer, Masonry by Mohler, to work on a job at a local college. His job required him and his fellow co-workers to undergo rigorous and taxing work on a daily basis. It happened to be snowing when he was ordered to raise a heavy capstone with his workers one afternoon. While struggling to raise the stone, the ice caused him to slip and fall and land on his back. After thorough tests and examinations were ran, medical professionals later notified Escamilla that he had suffered a hernia and had severely injured his back. But that wasn’t the worst of the news. As a result of his injuries, he has developed a permanent disability that prohibits him from lifting more than 20 pounds. And the masonry job he spent years doing would no longer be an available option for employment.
Disappointed by the news, Escamilla decided to sue the general contractor for the college project, Shiel Sexton. He received an estimate from experts, claiming that his injury had decreased his earning capacity by between approximately $578,000 and $947,000. As a rebuttal, Shiel Sexton’s defense team decided to file a pretrial motion contending that since Escamilla is not a citizen, he should not be able to recover the damages he seeks in his case and that the expert testimony should not be used. They based their claim on the fact that the man could get deported at any time. The Montgomery Superior court ruled in the defense’s favor, allowing evidence of Escamilla’s immigration status and excluding the testimony of his expert witness in court.
After the Supreme Court unanimously reversed this decision, Chief Justice Loretta Rush provided a statement explaining the court’s reasoning.
“When Indiana law affords a remedy – like recovering decreased earning capacity – the Open Courts Clause does not permit us to close the courthouse door based solely on the plaintiff’s immigration status,” Rush wrote. “We cannot read the Open Courts Clause’s ‘every person’ guarantee to exclude unauthorized immigrants. And as long as decreased earning capacity remains recoverable in personal injury actions, it is part of administering justice ‘completely.’
Now, Escamilla and other undocumented immigrants in similar situations are allowed to bring their claims in Indiana without the issue of their immigration status interfering in the decision.