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Balbuena v. IDR Realty LLC - 2006 NY Slip Op 1248, 6 N.Y.3d 338, 812 N.Y.S.2d 416, 845 N.E.2d 1246


Under New York precedent, civil recovery is foreclosed if the plaintiff's conduct constituted a serious violation of the law and the injuries for which he seeks recovery were the direct result of that violation. Although recoveries have been denied to parties who have engaged in illegal activities, in those cases it was the work being performed that was outlawed. Moreover, neither the Immigration Reform and Control Act, 8 U.S.C.S. § 1324a et seq., nor any other federal or state statute makes it a crime to be an employed but undocumented alien, unless the alien secured employment through the use of false work authorization documentation. 


In two cases, undocumented aliens were injured while working because of the alleged failure of defendants to adhere with workplace safety requirements imposed by state laws. The workers filed actions under N.Y. Lab. Law §§ 240241 including claims for backwages. The defendants sought partial summary judgment contending that undocumented aliens injured at a work site as a result of state labor law violations are precluded from recovering lost wages due to immigration status. When contrary decisions were entered, certified questions were submitted for consideration.


Is an undocumented alien allowed to recover for lost wages in a personal injury action?




In ruling in favor of the aliens, the reviewing court determined that an award of lost wages for a failure to adhere to work place safety requirements was not preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), 8 U.S.C.S. § 1324a et seq. Even though the federal government had exclusive control over immigration and naturalization, the states had broad authority under their police powers to protect workers in the state and to enact laws pertaining to occupational health and safety. Moreover, limiting a lost wages claim by an undocumented alien would have lessened the incentive to comply with state law. The reviewing court also noted that the aliens in question did not violate the IRCA, and their presence in the country was not sufficient to justify denying them damages to which they were entitled. As such, there was no evidence to override the presumption against preemption, and an undocumented alien was not precluded from obtaining lost wages under IRCA.

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