Thanks to Workerscompinsider for reporting on the workers comp case of Ronnie Ramroop, an illegal immigrant who lost two fingers in an accident in New York in 1995. The State Cort of Appeals denied in late June his access to further rehabilitation, saying that his illegal work status makes him ineligible. Previously, New York courts have been fairly friendly to illegal workers. This line of reasoning has be adapted by courts in some other states” that immediate care is OK, but not ongoing rehab.
Below is an article published in the New York Times:
Undocumented Worker Ineligible for Additional Benefits: Courts [06/27/08]
New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, issued a 5-2 decision Thursday holding that an undocumented worker is not eligible for additional vocational rehabilitation benefits after his permanent disability award was paid in full because his illegal status makes him ineligible to work in the state.
In Ronnie Ramroop v. Flexo-Craft Printing, No. 121, 06/27/2008, plaintiff Ronnie Ramroop lost two fingers on his right hand when it was crushed in a printing press while he was working for Flexo-Craft. He was awarded benefits for the injury, which were paid from March 29, 1995 until Jan. 8, 2000, when the award was fully paid.
In 1997 Ramroop was interviewed for a vocational rehabilitation program through the Office of Rehabilitation and Social Services. It referred him to the New York State Education Department’s Office for Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities. That agency declared Ramroop ineligible for services because he is an undocumented alien and cannot be legally employed.
In 2002, two years after his award had been fully paid, Ramroop applied to have his case reopened and restored for purposes of receiving additional compensation.
A workers’ compensation law judge subsequently ordered State Insurance Fund to pay Ramroop $200 a week.
The insurer appealed, arguing Ramroop’s ineligibility for rehabilitation training also made him ineligible for additional compensation because he did not meet the law’s requirement that his inability to work be due solely due to his injury.
A State Workers’ Compensation Board panel rescinded the law judge’s order and directed the law judge to hold hearings on whether Ramroop’s loss of earnings was based “solely” on his injury. The law judge held the hearings and reinstated the award. The insurer appealed.
The board panel reversed the administrative law judge’s opinion finding Ramroop’s ineligibility for vocational rehab meant he was not able to meet the legal requirement that his loss of income capacity be solely due to his injury. Ramroop appealed the decision, but the appellate division court agreed with the board panel.
Ramroop appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing the appellate division decision belies the legislative history of the state’s workers’ compensation law. A majority of the Court of Appeals justices disagreed.
It held a worker not only has to prove his loss of earnings, but also has to prove that the loss was due entirely to his injury in order to be eligible for additional benefits. It said Ramroop’s inability to participate in vocational rehabilitation because of his illegal status meant he failed to prove the loss of earning was due entirely to his injury.
“Even if we assume that the claimant cooperated to the extent he could , his inability to participate was not because rehabilitation was not feasible — the board never made a feasibility determination — but because no rehabilitation program is available to those who are not legally employable,” the majority wrote in its decision.
The court noted the legislature was not likely to have meant to restore to employment someone who was not eligible for employment in the first place.
“Reversal of the Appellate Division order would not only promote such restoration, it would effectively place the instant claimant, and others similarly situated, in a more favorable position than claimants who must meet all statutory requirements,” it said.
Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick dissented, saying the record never established whether board-approved rehabilitation is available to people who cannot be legally employed. He said he believes the case should be returned to the board for it to determine if there is a rehabilitation program that would take someone unable to legally work in the country. He said all workers, regardless of their work status, are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
“The majority today forecloses the availability of additional compensation for severely injured workers solely because they lack permanent residency status or authorization to work in this country, ignoring the history of our Workers’ Compensation Law and this state’s commitment to protect all workers, irrespective of immigration status,” he wrote.