Immigration status is a complicated and volatile issue, especially in California where many undocumented immigrants are vital to our local economy because of the jobs they fill. Specifically, could immigration status be prejudicial, effecting the outcome of a personal injury trial? If so, should immigration status be admissible during personal injury trials?
In a recent newsletter, Roger Booth wrote about this issue in an article titled, “Admissibility of Plaintiff’s Immigration Status at Trial.” The article details the ruling by the Court of Appeal for the Second District in Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc., 2015 DJDAR 1362 and the firm’s experience with this immigration status issues in another personal injury case:
During a pretrial Evidence Code section 402 hearing, one of plaintiff’s experts testified that he would have to “look into” whether plaintiff’s immigration status would be a factor in the transplant decision, but that he did not know what the specific guidelines were on that subject. Based on that testimony, the trial judge ruled that plaintiff’s immigration status would be admissible because it might be a factor that a hospital would consider. Later, during trial, both sides’ experts testified that, in fact, a rule had recently been enacted that prohibited a patient’s immigration status from being considered at all in the transplant decision process. Based on that testimony, the trial judge reversed his earlier admissibility ruling, but denied plaintiff’s counsel’s motion for a mistrial. By that time, the jurors had already heard, during voir dire, that plaintiff was in the U.S. illegally. The jury subsequently returned a defense verdict.
The Court of Appeal held that “when an undocumented immigrant plaintiff files a personal injury action, but does not claim damages for lost earnings or earnings capacity, evidence of his or her immigration status is irrelevant.” The Court recognized the “very real” and “very strong” prejudicial impact of such evidence. Even assuming that plaintiff’s immigration status was “nominally” or “marginally” relevant to whether he would receive a lung transplant, such relevance was greatly outweighed by the prejudicial impact. Thus, the Court of Appeal held that, before the trial judge had even heard the subsequent testimony from both sides’ experts, he should have excluded any evidence regarding plaintiff’s immigration status.
For the full article, please visit the website of Booth & Koskoff, a personal injury firm operating in California.
Photo by Margot Pandone via Unsplash.