This month brought a major win for undocumented immigrants and civil rights activists in California. AB 2159 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 17, which effectively blocks a plaintiff's immigration status as admissible in court during personal injury and wrongful death cases. Regardless of a person's immigration status, this law ensures a greater measure of justice for undocumented workers.
The law is based on an appellate court decision from 1986, Rodriguez v. Kline - an injured plaintiff was seeking compensation that included healthcare costs and damages for the loss of future work. The court ruled to use the plaintiff's immigration status as a key factor in the case, using their "home" country as a basis to calculate lost wages rather than their wages and medical care costs in the United States. If a person was wrongfully injured as an undocumented immigrant, they could potentially receive a fraction of the compensation they would if they were documented. This discouraged many immigrants from filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in California, fearing they wouldn't be fairly compensated and that their immigration status would be on the public record.
Victory for immigrants
AB 2159 was sponsored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) who said, "When injustices are committed in California, the parties responsible should be held to California's standards, it's that simple." The California Legislature has worked to pass laws to protect the rights of undocumented people, including workers, and now these protections include people injured on the job, disregarding their immigration status. The sponsors of the bill also hope to see more undocumented immigrants come forward to receive damages after being injured, rather than avoiding court and the disclosure of their status. The law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2017.