A recent Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion tackled the difficult issue of whether the immigration status of the plaintiff is admissible as evidence in a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. You may wonder – how does immigration status relate at all to a personal injury lawsuit? The answer lies in plaintiff’s burden of proving damages. Personal injury damages in Maryland can include medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Immigration status is relevant to a claim for lost wages for the simple reason that legal ability to work affects the likelihood of future earnings in the United States.
The Pew Research Center estimates that about 3.6 percent of the total population in the United States consists of unauthorized, foreign-born persons. At 4.8 percent, Maryland ranks above-average for the number of unauthorized immigrants, and much of Maryland’s population growth results from a growing population of unauthorized immigrants. Like any American citizen or authorized immigrant, unauthorized immigrants have the right to sue those who injure them, including to sue for personal injury damages.
However, as the recent Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion in Ayala v. Lee shows, representing a plaintiff who is an unauthorized immigrant can present novel legal questions and will require the help of an experienced Maryland Personal Injury Attorney.
Court of Special Appeals’ Opinion in Ayala v. Lee
The facts surrounding liability in in Ayala v. Lee are overwhelmingly in support of the plaintiff. Ayala, an El Salvador native, was riding as a passenger in his employer’s vehicle on their way to a job site in Annapolis, Maryland. It was raining heavily and the truck’s windshield wipers stopped working. The driver turned the emergency flashers on and stopped the truck under an overpass to work on the wipers, with the two right wheels of the truck resting on the grass and the two left wheels on the shoulder of the road. While stopped, the truck was struck from behind by the defendant. As a result, Ayala and a co-worker suffered serious injuries and the driver was killed.
As the case progressed, it became evident that Ayala was an unauthorized immigrant who had entered the country through Texas, settled in Maryland, and illegally obtained a social security number and permanent resident card. At trial, Ayala moved to exclude any evidence related to his immigration status. The trial court ruled that the evidence was admissible and relevant because it was relevant to whether Ayala could legally earn the lost wages he was claiming.
On review, the Court of Special Appeals expressed some concern about the potential for bias when allowing immigration status into evidence. The Court of Special Appeals noted decisions from courts in several other states allowing evidence as to immigration status in calculating lost wage. Ultimately, the Court of Special Appeals held that the evidence was admissible in this case; however, in a footnote in the decision the Court noted that a better move for Ayala would have been to object to the production of his social security number during discovery proceedings.