Nine undocumented workers who were injured in a propane explosion at a New York farm camp will have their day in a U.S. court — even though they’ll have to have it by video conference from their homes in Mexico and Guatemala.
A New York appeals court has given the workers the go-ahead to press their lawsuit from their home countries, according to the (Syracuse, NY) Post-Standard.
The explosion happened in Oswego County nearly seven years ago, killing one worker and severely wounding the others. The survivors sued the farm, the propane delivery company and the maker of the stove.
All 10 had given the farm owner, Anthony DeMarco & Sons Inc., forged passports and Social Security cards.
The explosion happened at dawn. The stove had failed a health department inspection a few weeks before.
As seasonal workers, they were putting in 60-hour weeks and being paid $6.25 an hour, according to their lawyer, Michael Bersani. It happened in October, near the end of the season, and the workers also lost thousands of dollars in cash.
Though they weren’t legally in the country, they were covered by workers’ comp, which paid over $1 million in medical expenses.
All also received comp for lost wages. Eight took settlements averaging $40,000 and returned to their home countries.
One who remains in the U.S. gets a workers’ comp check for about $200, every two weeks.
They filed their lawsuit in 2008.
Last August, a state Supreme Court judge denied a motion to let them testify from their home countries, saying they had to return to the U.S. for depositions and independent medical examinations, if they were requested by defendants.
Two applied for visas to re-enter the U.S. and were denied.
The appeals court unanimously agreed that they should be allowed to testify by video.
The judges said their right to sue and to testify from their home countries supports “sound public policy.” To do otherwise would “reward employers who knowingly disregard the employment verification systems in defiance of the primary purposes of federal immigration laws.”
The controversy underscores the conflict between employers who may seek out undocumented workers, or at least turn a blind eye, and immigration officials and hard-liners.
“Everyone knows that a lot of them don’t have documentation,” Bersani said. “You ask any farmer, they’ll tell you, for the pay that these guys get and the conditions these guys work in, you can’t find Americans to do those jobs.”
Should the workers be allowed to sue and testify? Tell us what you think in the comment box below.