The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recently held that an individual who was unauthorized to work in this country was nonetheless entitled to recover damages for lost wages arising out of his personal injury action.
In Kalyta v. Versa Products, the plaintiff – who was injured using a ladder purchased from Home Depot while performing his job – sued Home Depot and demanded, among other damages, lost wages. Home Depot moved to dismiss the case arguing that the plaintiff was not entitled to lost wages because he was not authorized to work in the United States.
The Court evaluated precedent from other federal courts and New Jersey state courts because the issue had not been decided in its jurisdiction. The Court distinguished this situation from back pay claims in a wrongful discharge case, for which the United States Supreme Court had already determined that undocumented workers are not entitled to pursue (because they could not lawfully obtain employment under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)). Instead, the Court analogized these claims to workers’ compensation claims by unauthorized workers that have been permitted by the New Jersey Appellate Division because a diminished capacity to work would impact an individual whether he works in this country or elsewhere.
Unauthorized workers still cannot recover back pay damages for wrongful termination claims because the IRCA mandates that those workers should be terminated once an employer learns that they are unauthorized to work in this country. However, workers’ compensation or lost wages damages for claims that sound in negligence appear to be fair game for unauthorized workers. Accordingly, employers should be aware that there is now support in both New Jersey state and federal caselaw for permitting unauthorized workers to pursue workers’ compensation damages and lost wages damages for personal injuries.