Can You File a Personal Injury Lawsuit if You are Undocumented?

A lawyer seated at his desk advising his client on how to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.

Yes, under the right circumstances you can file a personal injury lawsuit as an undocumented individual. That said, navigating this legal scape will be understandably intimidating, so you must remember, no matter what: You have rights. 

Regardless of your immigration status, you are entitled to certain protections under California law. By understanding your rights and the options available to you, you can take control of your circumstances and assert your rights when necessary.  

Below, we’ll detail scenarios in which you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer — and how to do so. However, keep in mind that it will always be to your advantage to work with a skilled attorney to ensure you can secure the compensation you’re owed, without worrying about any question of citizenship.

Reach out to our experienced personal injury attorneys today for legal assistance and representation of your injury claim. We speak English, Spanish, and Punjabi to help a wide range of client backgrounds. Schedule a free case review today when you call (559) 878-4958 or contact us online.

Can an Illegal Immigrant Sue an Employer?

The answer is yes, under certain circumstances. While immigration status does not prevent an individual from seeking legal recourse for workplace violations, it’s important to understand the specific situations where a lawsuit can be pursued.

Undocumented immigrants in California can sue their employer in two main scenarios: when the employer fails to provide workers’ compensation coverage and when the employer commits intentional or egregious acts.

When An Employer Fails to Provide Workers’ Compensation 

Firstly, if an employer does not provide workers’ compensation coverage, undocumented immigrants have the right to take legal action. Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides benefits to employees who suffer injuries or illnesses arising out of their employment. 

California law mandates that employers provide workers’ compensation coverage to their employees, regardless of their immigration status. If an employer neglects this responsibility, it opens the door for legal action.

Specifically, California Labor Code Section 3351 explicitly states that all employers in California, regardless of the immigration status of their employees, are required to provide workers’ compensation coverage. This provision ensures that all workers, including undocumented immigrants, have access to benefits and protections in the event of work-related injuries or illnesses.

The primary purpose of workers’ compensation laws is to protect the rights and well-being of employees. By extending coverage to all workers, regardless of their immigration status, California aims to ensure that every employee is entitled to fair treatment, compensation for medical expenses, and income replacement in the event of a work-related injury or illness.

When An Employer Commits an Intentional or Egregious Act 

Undocumented immigrants can also sue their employer when intentional or egregious acts occur. These acts go beyond simple negligence and involve deliberate harm or severe misconduct. 

Examples include physical abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination, or knowingly exposing employees to dangerous conditions. In such cases, the law recognizes the gravity of the employer’s actions and allows employees to seek justice through legal means.

Unlike with a lack of Workers Compensation, there is no specific legal code designed to specifically protect undocumented employees. Instead, workers are allowed to file personal injury lawsuits under the general tort law principles and legal protections available to all individuals, regardless of immigration status. These include: 

California Civil Code 

Various provisions within the California Civil Code govern personal injury claims, including those arising from intentional or egregious acts. For example, Civil Code Section 1708 covers the right to privacy and protection from intentional infliction of emotional distress, while Section 1714 holds individuals accountable for injuries caused by their willful misconduct or negligence.

California Labor Code

The California Labor Code provides general labor protections applicable to all employees, regardless of their immigration status. While it does not specifically address personal injury lawsuits, it establishes regulations regarding wages, hours, working conditions, and employer liability, which can be relevant in cases involving intentional or egregious acts.

Common Law Principles

Common law principles, including those related to negligence, intentional torts, and premises liability, form the foundation of personal injury lawsuits. These principles are derived from legal precedents established by court decisions and guide the assessment of liability and damages in cases involving intentional or egregious acts.

What Counts as an Intentional or Egregious Act? 

Intentional or egregious acts refer to any severe misconduct or deliberate harm inflicted upon employees by an employer. Recognizing these acts is crucial in order to take appropriate action. Examples of such acts may include:

  • Physical abuse or assault against an employee
  • Sexual harassment, including unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, or creating a hostile work environment
  • Discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, national origin, or disability
  • Retaliation against an employee for reporting illegal activities, filing complaints, or asserting their rights
  • Fraudulent misrepresentation or deceitful practices that harm employees
  • Intentionally creating unsafe working conditions, disregarding safety protocols, or failing to provide necessary protective equipment
  • Knowingly violating wage and hour laws, such as withholding wages, unpaid overtime, or wage theft

How to Recognize and Document Intentional or Egregious Acts 

Recognizing intentional or egregious acts by an employer requires vigilance and awareness of your rights. Here’s how you can identify and document such acts:

  • Keep detailed records: Maintain a written record of incidents, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of the events. Document any witnesses present and their contact information if possible.
  • Save evidence: Preserve any relevant evidence, such as emails, text messages, photographs, or videos that support your claims. These can serve as critical pieces of evidence during legal proceedings.
  • Seek support from colleagues: Speak with trusted coworkers who may have witnessed or experienced similar acts. Their testimonies can strengthen your case and provide additional evidence.
  • Consult legal experts: If you suspect intentional or egregious acts, consult with an attorney who specializes in employment law. They can guide you on the specific legal requirements, help assess the strength of your case, and provide advice on the best course of action.

After recognizing and documenting the act, the next step will be to notify your employer (or supervisor) about the harmful behavior. You must do so in writing, and clearly describe the incident. Make sure to request that appropriate action be taken; and keep a copy of this complaint for your records. 

If your employer fails to address the issue — or worse, decides to retaliate — it’s time to file a complaint. 

How to File a Complaint After an Egregious or Intentional Act 

First, you’ll need to file a formal complaint with the relevant government agency. In most situations, you’ll file your complaint with either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Next, you’ll want to seek legal advice from an experienced employment attorney who can evaluate your case, explain your rights and legal options, and guide you through the process of pursuing legal action.

Make sure to continue to document any further instances of intentional or egregious acts. Maintain a record of the impact these acts have on your physical and emotional well-being, as well as any financial losses incurred.

What Legal Options Do I Have If My Employer Did Not Provide Workers’ Comp? 

If your employer has not provided workers’ compensation coverage as required by law, you still have legal options to seek compensation for your work-related injuries or illnesses. Here are your potential legal avenues:

Civil Lawsuit Against the Employer

In the absence of workers’ compensation coverage, you may file a civil lawsuit against your employer. By pursuing a personal injury lawsuit, you can seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from the work-related injury or illness. It is essential to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney so they can evaluate the viability of your case, and guide you through the legal process.

Labor Code Violation Claims

You can file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office or the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) for violations of labor laws, including the failure to provide workers’ compensation coverage. These agencies have the authority to investigate and enforce compliance with labor laws and may seek remedies on your behalf, such as back wages and penalties.

Employment Retaliation Claims

If you faced retaliation or adverse actions from your employer for asserting your right to workers’ compensation or for reporting the lack of coverage, you may have a claim for employment retaliation. Retaliation can include termination, demotion, pay reduction, or other adverse treatment. 

Overcome Intimidation and Fight For Your Rights With the Help of an Experienced Immigrant Attorney Team

It’s important to recognize that regardless of your immigration status, you have certain rights as an employee in California. These rights are protected by state and federal laws and apply to everyone in the workforce. 

So if you’re looking to report an employer for undue harm, or simply seek compensation for an injury that occurred at work, know that you can count on the team at Singh Ahluwalia Attorneys at Law. Our immigration attorneys are here to help protect you during this arduous process, and are equipped with the expertise you’ll need to ensure you can secure the compensation you’re owed. 

To schedule your first confidential, no-obligation case review with their team, simply call (559) 878-4958 or contact us online to schedule your appointment today.