Immigration status does not impact a victim’s personal injury case. Everyone in the United States – regardless of citizenship status – is entitled to protections afforded by civil law, including tort actions for negligence. However, each group’s concerns may be different. While United States citizens are not typically concerned about how a personal injury suit may affect the right to live or work in the U.S., lawful residents and undocumented aliens may be concerned a case could imperil immigration status, or that their status may impact their ability to recover damages.
Tort Liability Explained
Tort liability refers to a type of personal injury case that injured people can file to recover compensation from the person or entity who caused the injury. Everyone in the United States can access state and federal courts to enforce their rights regardless of citizenship status. The plaintiff (the injured party) bears the burden of proof, proving that the defendant was partially or entirely responsible for the injury. The theory behind tort liability is that the right amount of money can compensate the injured party for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses related to or resulting from the injury.
Potential Issues in Bringing a Claim
Within tort liability are numerous subsets of causes of action, including, but not limited to, slip and falls, car accidents, intentional torts, and rideshare injury. However, recovering compensation isn’t as simple as filing a lawsuit, and bringing a claim for injuries may cause additional concerns for immigrants.
Lawsuits are public documents, accessible by anyone, including immigration authorities. Many immigrants express concern that filing a personal injury lawsuit could invite unwanted scrutiny that could impact their ability to remain in the United States.
However, the issues facing lawful and undocumented residents are not the same.
Anyone who is lawfully present in the United States can bring a lawsuit to recover damages. Whether or not a lawful resident files a lawsuit will not affect immigration status.
The situation for undocumented aliens is more complex. While undocumented immigrants have the same rights as citizens and lawful residents to enforce individual rights in the courts, the potential exposure of filing a publicly accessible record could subject them to deportation.
For example, the defendant may discover the plaintiff is undocumented. The parties must engage in “discovery,” which is a legal procedure in which both sides ask each other questions and for documents. If the defendant asks the plaintiff whether or not they are lawfully present in the United States, the plaintiff must answer truthfully. If the defendant learns this information, it could impact settlement negotiations as the undocumented alien may be reluctant to engage in a public trial.
If the case does go trial, a plaintiff attorney should be able to exclude any reference to the plaintiff’s immigration status as it is not relevant as to whether the defendant is liable.
However, immigration status could be relevant in proving damages. For example, if the plaintiff is trying to prove future lost wages, then whether he or she is authorized to work in the U.S. is relevant to that issue. Accordingly, immigration status could be entered into the public record.