Immigration status is no longer a barrier to recovering damages in California personal injury and wrongful death cases (AB 2159)

AB 2159, recently signed into law, finally eliminates the legal ability to discriminate against injured undocumented individuals who seek compensation for their injuries, including injuries they may have sustained at work.

This law prohibits the admission of immigration status in cases involving personal injury or wrongful death (California Evidence Code section 351.2(a)).

Prior to this legislation, it was possible for an undocumented individual to recover damages when injured; however, the recovery could be limited to the salary that individual could earn in his or her home country.  This meant that undocumented individuals would only be able to recover a fraction of what others could recover for the same injury. This was a long-standing rule rooted in a case from 1986 that allowed an employee’s immigration status to play a role in determining the amount of recovery for injuries.  (Rodriguez v. Kline, 186 Cal.App.3d 1145 (1986).)

Historically, this rule resulted in discrimination against undocumented individuals seeking recovery for injuries.  In the context of workplace injuries, the rule ignored the amount of wages the undocumented workers were, in fact, earning at the time of their injury.  The discriminatory treatment was magnified because undocumented workers disproportionately work in low wage industries and in dangerous jobs—and were in many cases more likely to get hurt.

This new California law eliminates such discriminatory treatment.  As a result, undocumented workers will finally be entitled to recover the same amount of lost earnings as any other hard working person in California.

By Tiffany Crain Altamirano | October 4, 2016

Legal Developments