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Admissibility Of Immigration Status In New York Personal Injury Trials

August 31, 2013
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In a recent case, our White Plains car accident lawyer, Michael Joseph obtained a jury verdict of $750,000 for an undocumented immigrant in Westchester Supreme Court. By knowledge of the recent developments in the law in New York concerning the admissibility of immigration status, our Westchester car accident attorney successfully obtained an order precluding the defendants from even asking the injured Plaintiff what his immigration status was. Our White Plains personal injury lawyers frequently represent undocumented immigrants in car and truck accidents, construction accidents, medical malpractice and slip and falls, civil rights violations, among others. With Westchester’s large illegal immigrant population in towns like White Plains, Ossining, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Armonk, Valhalla and others.

The law in the State of New York is that a Trial Court has discretion to preclude inquiry into a Plaintiff’s immigration status, even where a lost wage claim is asserted. Where evidence of the Plaintiff’s immigration status is not directly relevant to an issue before the Court, it should be precluded.It is improper for a defendant to suggest that plaintiff is subject to deportation or that he would return to his country, in an effort to suggest that plaintiff would incur lower medical expenses outside the United States. Evidence of immigration status is highly prejudicial and an attempt at jury nullification through an appeal to prejudice. Plaintiff is not precluded from recovering either lost wages or medical expenses because of his immigration status.The law is settled that a defendant may not avoid liability for the Plaintiff’s wages by virtue of the Plaintiff’s status as an undocumented alien. Undocumented immigrants may sue and recover for future lost earnings at the rate of pay they were receiving in the United States. It is error for a Court to allow a suggestion to the jury that plaintiff is precluded from recovering lost wages because of his immigration status. A plaintiff’s status as an illegal alien, in and of itself, cannot be used to rebut a claim for future lost earnings. The federal immigration laws do not make it a crime to work without documentation, but rather they prohibit the tendering of false documents, thus an undocumented alien may be precluded from recovering damages for lost wages only if he obtained employment by submitting false documentation to the employer.

In our Westchester case, we proved that since the Plaintiff was self employed at the time of his accident, there is no issue that he did not submit false information to obtain employment. In fact, it is a misrepresentation of the law to say that plaintiff is precluded from recovering future lost wages because of immigration status because working in the United States without proper documentation is neither a crime pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (8 USC § 1324a) nor a bar to the recovery of damages in a civil action for personal injuries. To allow a jury to believe otherwise is error and will cause undue prejudice to plaintiff.

Caselaw has recognized that it is improper for a Defendant to suggest to the jury that Plaintiff’s immigration status prohibits any award of future lost wages or medical expenses. Gratuitous remarks which serve no other purpose but to inflame the jury deprives a litigant of a fair trial. It is axiomatic in the American justice system that a jury’s role at trial is limited to finding the facts and jury nullification is subversive of the rule of law. Jury nullification occurs when a jury-based on its own sense of justice or fairness-refuses to follow the law. Nullification is an assumption of power which the jury has no right to exercise. New York trial courts have a mandated duty to prevent improper and impermissive nullification conduct. Juries cannot be the conscience of the community by violating their oath to apply the law to the evidence.

 
The Law Offices of Michael H. Joseph