When a roofer at a development site in New York fell from the top of the building several years ago, his injuries were as serious as one would expect. He needed four surgeries and three hospitalizations and suffered substantial disabilities as a result of the workplace accident.
Ordinarily, the worker could expect to seek workers’ compensation benefits and possibly a personal injury claim from a negligent third party. But that’s not how this case went. The roofer was an undocumented worker.
He did file a third party lawsuit against the general contractor and construction site owner, but faced a particular legal challenge. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) makes it illegal for employers to knowingly hire illegal aliens and prohibits illegal aliens from submitting false paperwork to get a job.
In his case, however, the court ruled that the IRCA did not prevent an undocumented worker from recovering lost wages. Later cases held that illegal aliens could be prohibited from receiving back pay if they knowingly submitted false work papers, but they have not taken away the right of undocumented workers to sue third parties for work-related injuries in all cases.
While undocumented workers do have the right to file for workers’ compensation and can sue third parties for damages in workplace accidents, the laws regarding their cases are complex and the stakes are high. An experienced attorney can assess whether an undocumented worker is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits or a third-party claim for damages and represent the worker throughout the proceedings.
For more information, see our article, “Undocumented Workers and Third Party Claims.”