The Washington state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a man's undocumented immigrant status in the U.S. should not have been introduced in a trial while the man sought damages in a negligence lawsuit against a construction contractor.
In a 7-2 ruling, the state's high court reversed a state Court of Appeals decision to uphold a jury verdict against Alex Salas.
The question before the court revolved around the issue of whether Salas' immigration status affects his claim for future wages, given that he is illegally in the country.
The jury found the construction contractor had been negligent but did not award any monetary damages to him.
"I knew justice wasn't being done," said Salas' attorney Robert B. Kornfeld. "Here you have someone who violates (workers' safety) and they get away with it, because this guy was undocumented? That wasn't right."
A Mexican native, Salas was working on a construction project in Seattle in 2002 when he fell from a ladder provided by Hi-Tech Erectors.
He was seriously injured and sued the contractor two years later, alleging that the ladder did not meet safety codes. According to court documents, the day of the fall was wet, and the ladder did not have a textured surface to prevent slipping.
Salas suffered back, hip and ankle injures, including multiple fractures in joints. Kornfeld said Salas' medical bills went up to $150,000 and that he faces a hip replacement. "Eventually one day, he will be very crippled," Kornfeld said.
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