Court Tackles Question of Future Wages and Medical Expenses for Undocumented Aliens Involved in Auto Accident
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Ayala v. Lee has addressed a long-standing question over whether a plaintiff's illegal immigration status can be raised by defense counsel at a trial involving claims for personal injury where future lost wages and future medical expenses are claimed by a plaintiff. The court ruled that in certain limited circumstances, one's illegal status may be relevant and admissible, but that the trial judge must first weigh the potential prejudice of the line of questioning proposed against the probative value of allowing a jury to hear such evidence. The appellate court's opinion provides important guidance to future litigants, attorneys, and judges on an issue that is arising more regularly in civil trials.
The case involved personal injury claims by several undocumented aliens who were struck in a company truck that had been parked on the side of Route 50 after it pulled over due to mechanical difficulties. The plaintiffs were outside of the vehicle, standing in front of it, when it was struck from behind by a vehicle that entered onto the shoulder. The plaintiffs were injured. The driver who hit the plaintiffs claimed he was forced onto the shoulder by a vehicle traveling in the lane to his left and that he had no choice but to move off the road to avoid a collision.
The case went to trial on the issues of negligence and damages. Plaintiffs presented evidence of their past and likely future medical care costs for their injuries along with their past and projected future wage loss due to work limitations caused by their injuries. During cross-examination, the trial judge allowed defense counsel to question the plaintiffs and their experts at length about plaintiffs' illegal status. In response to plaintiffs' objection, defense counsel argued that plaintiffs' immigration status was relevant since their inevitable deportation would impact their future medical and wage claims since the medical care and employment opportunities in the United States, upon which their claims were based, were not similarly available in Plaintiffs' home country.