South Carolina court approves workers comp for illegal immigrant

An insurance newswire reported that the state’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the claimant, Mario Curiel. The court cited prior decisions by North Carolina,
Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Minnesota.
The article:
COLUMBIA, S.C. 01/03/2008 (BestWire)-Illegal immigrants injured at work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the South Carolina Supreme Court said in a ruling.
The court unanimously upheld a decision by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission and a lower court ruling that held the worker, Mario B. Curiel, was eligible for benefits because of an eye injury suffered while working on a demolition site.
The employer, Environmental Management Services, argued that because Curiel is a Mexican national who used false documentation to get the job, he was not eligible for benefits under the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Although South Carolina law specifies workers’ compensation eligibility for any injured worker “including aliens … whether lawfully or unlawfully employed,” the company claimed IRCA’s prohibitions on the use of fraudulent documents to obtain employment superseded the state law.
“To the contrary,” wrote Justice James E. Moore for the court, “disallowing benefits would mean unscrupulous employers could hire undocumented workers without the burden of insuring them, a consequence that would encourage rather than discourage the hiring of illegal workers. We find IRCA does not pre-empt state law and claimant is not precluded from benefits under our Workers’ Compensation Act.”
Moore wrote that the decision was in line with those in other states, and specifically cited a 2002 North Carolina ruling in a similar case because, he said, the states’ workers’ compensation laws are the same. That decision, Ruiz vs. Belk Masonry Co., quoted from the original congressional hearings that IRCA is not intended “to undermine or diminish in any way labor protections in existing law.”
Moore also referenced similar decisions by courts in Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Minnesota.
The appeal also dealt with questions concerning the degree of damage to Curiel’s vision, and ordered the Workers’ Compensation Commission to make a determination.

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