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New Mexico Federal Trial Court Addresses Recovery Rights of Estates of Deceased Undocumented Immigrants in Personal Injury Cases

On Behalf of | Aug 13, 2020 | Personal Injury

In a recent ruling by the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, the court denied a tire maker’s summary judgment motion.  The tire maker had challenged via its summary judgment motion the ability of the plaintiff to collect damages for lost earnings or lost earning capacities.  The tire maker’s position was based on the fact that the decedent, who was killed in a car accident, was apparently an undocumented immigrant.

The defendant tire maker’s position in support of summary judgment was that the plaintiff should not be allowed to recover damages for the decedent’s future lost earning capacity because it would be illegal for him to work in the United States under federal law.  In support of its position, the defendant directed the court’s attention to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), which is the federal statutory scheme prohibiting the employment in the United States of undocumented foreign workers.  The federal court adjudicating the dispute understood the defendant to be making the policy argument that the federal court should not reward conduct that is unlawful under federal law.

The court disagreed with the defendant’s approach to the issue.  The court explained that it saw no reason for applying federal policy that was of questionable relevance in the lawsuit over clear New Mexico policy favoring compensation of injured people.  Further, the court was of the view that the New Mexico Supreme Court would hold that federal policy would not require a court to deny compensatory damages for lost earnings under New Mexico tort law.

As part of the court’s analysis, the court reviewed rulings concerning undocumented workers, including a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit which concluded that illegality is not a defense to a wrongful death claim by the estate of an illegal alien killed in a car accident.

The court predicted “that despite the illegality of undocumented immigrants working in the United States, the New Mexico Supreme Court would allow lost earning wages for estates of deceased undocumented immigrants…. it would not further the purpose of the IRCA to bar recovery under these circumstances.”

The court was not swayed by the defendant’s other arguments, including the argument in the alternative that the court should bar the plaintiff from presenting evidence of American wages for the purpose of calculating the decedent’s lost earning capacity. The court reasoned that the decedent had been working in the United States for over 20 years and a jury could properly decide that compensation for lost American earnings was appropriate.

If you, a family member, or other loved one has been injured in an accident, you may be entitled by law to receive a monetary damages award.  Being compensated monetarily for personal injury damages can help people and their families recover out-of-pocket costs including lost wages and medical bills. The legal process for obtaining a monetary damages award can be complex, and you should not have to navigate the process on your own.  Our law firm can help.  To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance. At the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., we provide a free consultation and can be reached at 505-445-1604 or contact attorney Matthew Vance online.