As a promised follow-up to my post of March 24, 2011 regarding the treatment of undocumented immigrants through the various workers’ compensation systems in the United States, another decision, this time from Florida, has been released that will further inform the debate.
In HDV Constructions Systems, Inc., et al., v Aragon, 2011 WL 2535337, released on June 28, 2011, the District Court of Appeals of Florida, First District, upheld the decision of the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) which found that employer, HDV Constructions Systems, Inc. (HDV), was precluded from using the claimant’s undocumented status in an attempt to defeat the claimant’s application for permanent total disability (PTD) benefits.
The case arose out of a serious injury sustained by Mr. Aragon while doing framing work for HDV. He fell from a height of 30 feet, sustaining complex fractures to his left foot and forearm. These injuries resulted in permanent restriction to sedentary work only, which prohibited the claimant from doing any of his pre-injury occupations. In addition, his lack of an education, a drivers license, an understanding of English, transferable skills and proper work documentation further inhibited his ability to obtain light employment. Mr. Aragon thereafter filed a claim for PTD benefits. HDV and its insurance carrier denied PTD benefits on the basis that Mr. Aragon was only unemployable because of his undocumented status.
On appeal, the JCC, citing to Cenvill Development Corp. v. Candelo, 478 So.2d 1168, found that HDV knew or should have known that Mr. Aragon was without the legal right to work in the United States. Further, notwithstanding this knowledge, HDV hired and continued to unlawfully employ Mr. Aragon until he was injured in a significant workplace accident. Therefore, HDV was precluded from using the claimant’s undocumented status in an attempt to defeat the claimant’s application for PTD benefits. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
One facet of the decision by the Florida Appeals Court is its firm restatement of the basic principle that an entity that knowingly employs unlawful labor should not be able to shirk the costs of the injuries it creates and shift the cost to the taxpaying public, thereby placing it in an unfairly superior financial position to those employers who operate lawfully. No doubt this principle will be the subject of much debate when legislators at the state level consider this topic in the weeks and months to come.