Immigration status and the right to sue for personal injury

As a Spanish-speaking personal injury attorney, I have the privilege of representing immigrants in personal injury cases. Regardless of immigration status, immigrants have the right to sue for injuries caused by the negligence of others, and also have the right to claim earnings lost as a result of their injuries.

Resident Aliens

The United States Constitution guarantees immigrants the right to pursue redress in the American judicial system:

  • The First Amendment guarantees that Congress “shall make no law” prohibiting the rights “of the people” to petition the government for a redress of grievances; and,
  • The Seventh Amendment guarantees the “right of trial by jury,” without reference to immigration status.

The Supreme Court of the United States has long held that lawfully admitted resident aliens have the same right to sue for personal injury as U.S. citizens, because they have the same rights as U.S. citizens under the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“It has long been settled … that the term ‘person’ … encompasses lawfully admitted resident aliens as well as citizens of the United States and entitles both citizens and aliens to the equal protection of the laws of the State in which they reside.”  In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court observed that like citizens, aliens: (1) pay taxes; (2) may be called into the armed forces; (3) may live within a state for many years; (4) work in the state; and, (5) contribute to the economic growth of the state.

Undocumented Immigrants

Although United States Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether an undocumented immigrant may sue for personal injuries, and different states have reached different conclusions on this issue, Virginia has answered the question in the affirmative.

In 1981, the Virginia Supreme Court held that undocumented immigrants may sue for personal injuries, including the right to sue for lost wages resulting from their injuries.

In that case, the Virginia Supreme Court also held that any evidence regarding the injured person’s immigration status was not admissible at trial because it was not relevant to the personal injury claim, and would unfairly prejudice the jury against the injured victim.  One federal court took this a step further, and held that evidence pertaining to a plaintiff’s immigration status was inadmissible, even though the plaintiff had obtained false papers, which the defendant argued was relevant to the plaintiff’s credibility.

If you or your loved one has been injured, please call us for a free consultation.  Inquiries are confidential and risk-free.  Immigration status should not prevent you from pursuing just compensation for your injuries.