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Injured Worker's Immigration Status Held Inadmissible By Washington Supreme Court

The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled yesterday that evidence of an injured worker's illegal immigration status is highly prejudicial and should be held to be inadmissible at trial. Alex Silas was injured when he fell from a ladder at a construction site. Silas was a Mexican citizen who came to the United States in 1989. Although he applied for citizenship, his application was never processed. His visa expired in 1994, but he continued to live and work in the Seattle area. He paid taxes on his earnings. Silas was married and had three children in the United States.

During the trial of his case he was granted an order finding that the Defendant, Hi-Tech Erectors, was negligent in that the ladder Silas had fallen from did not meet code requirements. Shortly before trial, it became apparent that Silas was not legally in the United States. Silas moved to exclude this evidence of his illegal immigration status. The trial court ruled the evidence admissible as it was relevant to Silas' claim for future lost wages. The Defendant argued that Silas' future lost wages should be measured based upon what Silas could earn in Mexico not upon his 20 years of earning history in the United States. The Jury held that Hi-Tech Erectors was negligent but found that the negligence was not the cause of Silas' injuries. Silas appealed the decision, arguing that admission of the illegal immigration status had unduly prejudiced the jury against him.

In reversing the trial court's decision and holding that evidence of a Silas' illegal immigration status should not have been admitted as evidence at trial, the Supreme Court noted that although the evidence may be marginally relevant to future lost wages, the prejudicial nature of the evidence demanded that it be excluded from trial. Citing Department of Homeland Security Statics, the Supreme Court noted that 11.6 million unauthorized aliens were residing in the United States and that less than one percent of unauthorized immigrant population is removed each year. The Court stated that although there was only a small chance that Silas would be deported, nevertheless, the evidence was relevant, but this was not the end of the Court's analysis.

Applying Washington Evidence Rule 403, the Supreme Court ruled that even though the evidence might be relevant, the probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. When evidence is likely to stimulate an emotional response rather than a rational decision, a danger of unfair prejudice exists. The Court held that immigration status was a politically sensitive issue and that evidence of illegal immigration status carried a significant danger of interfering with the jury's duty to engage in reasonable deliberation.

The Supreme Court's ruling is important to injured workers rights. Defendants have repeatedly sought to seek discovery of injured fishermen and maritime workers' immigration status and to use illegal immigration status to prejudice trier of facts into awarding less damages. Stacey & Jacobsen successfully defeated these same arguments for several of the seamen who were killed in the ARCTIC ROSE sinking case. A negligent employer should not be excused from paying an injured worker full injury compensation because of a worker's illegal immigration. Maritime law like Washington State law imposes a high legal duty to see that injured workers are treated fairly.

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