Personal Injury

Can I Make a Personal Injury Claim Against an Undocumented Immigrant?

When the person who caused your injury is an undocumented immigrant, there are a number of factors that could affect any personal injury claim you want to file.

You're sitting at a red light when your car is rear-ended by a pickup truck. You exit your vehicle to talk to the other driver and to obtain his license and insurance information. He is apologetic and says he was at fault. A police car comes to the scene and the officer begins to investigate the accident. An ambulance arrives and you are taken to the emergency room at the local hospital for treatment of your injuries.

Once you are treated and released, you obtain the police report. You learn that the other driver was cited for failing to stop within the assured clear distance ahead. Armed with the information in the police report, you consult with a personal injury attorney.

The attorney takes a few days to review the information in the police report, and your medical records, and does a little investigating. He tells you that although the pickup driver has a valid driver's license and car insurance, he is an undocumented immigrant. Your attorney also concludes that you have a good case. This might come as a surprise, but, as your attorney explains, the "undocumented" status of the driver is not, in and of itself, an impediment to a successful claim because in your state (California) illegal immigrants can obtain driver's licenses and auto insurance.

So, in this situation, your personal injury claim would proceed as any other case would. In most instances, that means your attorney would negotiate a fair settlement with the pickup driver's car insurance company (usually before a lawsuit needs to be filed). The fact that the driver is an undocumented immigrant will probably have no bearing on your claim.

What If the Undocumented Immigrant Has No License or Car Insurance?

Now let's change the facts a little. Let's say the accident took place in Florida, where undocumented immigrants can't currently obtain a driver's license. The pickup truck that hit you does not belong to the driver, but to his cousin's business (ABC Company), for which the driver works. (We'll put aside any questions about ABC Company's wisdom in employing an unlicensed driver as a delivery person).

Your attorney does a little investigating, and still believes you have a good case. How can this be? The answer lies in the fact that the truck is owned by a local company that has liability insurance with limits of one million dollars, and since the undocumented immigrant who caused your accident was driving the truck in the course of his employment, the truck's owner, ABC Company, is vicariously liable for the driver's negligence and your resulting injuries.

In this situation too, the mere fact that your personal injury has been caused by an undocumented immigrant does not mean that your recovery will be affected.

Non-Car Accident Claims Against Undocumented Immigrants

Of course, not every potential personal injury claim against an undocumented immigrant will stem from a car accident. For example, what if your neighbor's dog bites you, and after talking to her about how to resolve the matter, you learn that she is an undocumented immigrant?

In this situation, it's not really a question of whether you can sue your neighbor for your dog bite injuries, but whether it makes sense to sue. If you discuss the matter with a personal injury attorney, you're likely to get two questions right off the bat from the attorney:

  • Does your neighbor have homeowner's insurance (which could potentially cover dog bite liability)?
  • Does your neighbor have significant income/assets to pay any court judgment you might obtain against her?

If the answer to both of these questions is no, the attorney is likely to tell you that it's not worth filing a personal injury lawsuit against your neighbor, especially if your dog bite injuries are minor. Winning a lawsuit and obtaining a money judgment against your neighbor is certainly possible, but if there's no insurance policy in place to cover that judgment, and if your neighbor doesn't have the financial means to satisfy the judgment, the reality is that you're unlikely to see any actual compensation.

By the way, the answers to these same initial questions would be just as crucial to your prospects for success in a personal injury lawsuit against a U.S. citizen. So, your neighbor's undocumented status isn't really a big factor in the viability of your claim in this scenario either.

Get more answers to first questions about your personal injury claim.

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