New court ruling: illegal worker eligible for permanent disability award

As reported by Roberto Ceniceros in Business Insurance Magazine, an Illinois appellate court has ruled that an illegal worker can be awarded permanent disability benefits for a work injury. Some state courts have ruled against permanent awards, or even vocational rehabilitation (a Nebraska case), for illegal workers by observing that these injured workers are not legally able to work. But this court has said that the worker may be able to work elsewhere in a legal status and the disability would prevent that work.
The article in full:
CHICAGO—Employers can’t deny permanent total disability benefits for illegal immigrants on the basis that their immigration status would prevent them working in the United States legally, a state appeals court ruled.
In Friday’s decision, Illinois’ 1st Judicial District Appellate Court also said it agreed with appeals courts across several other states that “have almost uniformly held” that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 does not preclude awarding workers comp benefits to illegal immigrants.
The case of Economy Packing Co. vs. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission dealt with Ramona Navarro, a Mexican national who slipped and injured herself in May 2002 while working on an assembly line, court records state.
An arbitrator awarded her temporary total disability benefits of $147 per week for 60 weeks and permanent total disability benefits of $371 per week for life. The arbitrator also ruled Ms. Navarro to be an “odd-lot” worker, meaning she is permanently and totally disabled and her limited skills would prevent her from finding future work.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and a trial court agreed and Economy appealed. The employer argued that “undocumented aliens” are always unemployable because of immigration law regardless of their physical capabilities. In order to receive permanent total disability benefits under an odd-lot theory, Ms. Navarro therefore needed to prove that she is not employable due to age, training, education or experience, Economy argued.
The appeals court disagreed.
It found that although immigration law prevents Ms. Navarro from legally working in the United States, she would still be able to work elsewhere had she not sustained an injury on the job.
It also found that an employer has the burden of producing “sufficient evidence that suitable jobs would be regularly and continuously available to the undocumented alien but for her legal inability to obtain employment.”