Safety and OSHA News

Is undocumented worker barred from suing for his workplace injuries?

Four workers in Mississippi were injured when scaffolding collapsed at a worksite. They all filed a lawsuit against the general contractor, but it turned out one of the four workers was undocumented. 

During construction of a building, scaffolding built by W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. collapsed. Among the four workers who were injured was Francesco Medina.

The four men sued Yates, claiming the company negligently failed to construct the scaffolding according to plans and specifications.

Because Yates had workers’ comp insurance, a state court dismissed the suit, stating workers’ comp was their exclusive remedy.

Yates had also argued that Medina wasn’t lawfully employed because he allegedly wasn’t an American citizen, therefore his claim should be dismissed. In its decision, the court said the issue of Medina’s immigration status was moot because it threw out the lawsuit for another reason.

But on further appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court took up the immigration status issue.

First, the state’s high court upheld the lower court’s decision based on the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp.

On the issue of Medina’s immigration status, the high court quotes the Mississippi Constitution:

“All courts shall be open; and every person for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person, or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay. No person shall be debarred from prosecuting or defending any civil cause for or against him or herself, before any tribunal in the state, by him or herself, or counsel, or both.”

Therefore, the Mississippi Constitution doesn’t limit access to its courts based on immigration status and leaves open for every person a remedy for injury, according to the state’s highest court.

The high court noted similar decisions in other states, including New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin. readers may also remember similar cases we’ve written about in other states.

(McKean, Medina, Arrington and Robertson v. Yates, Supreme Court of Mississippi, No. 2013-CT-01807-SCT, 9/15/16)

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