Calif. Court Rules Illegal Immigrants Can Get Workers’ Comp

October 20, 2005

Illegal immigrants injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits despite their legal status, a California state appeals court ruled.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in a case involving Torrance-based coffee roaster Farmer Bros. Co., which had tried to deny workers’ comp benefits to an employee who was in the country illegally.

Farmers Bros. argued that federal immigration laws superseded the state’s workers’ comp system, which provides medical care and disability benefits to injured employees.

The court disagreed, upholding an earlier decision against Farmer Bros. by the state Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

“California law has expressly declared immigration status irrelevant to the issue of liability to pay compensation to an injured worker,” the three-judge panel said in a unanimous ruling issued late Monday.

The plaintiff, Rafael Ruiz, 35, claimed he injured his shoulders, back, neck and hands by repeatedly lifting heavy sacks of coffee beans, according to his attorney’s case file.

Attorney Kari Krogseng of San Leandro, who filed a brief on behalf of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, which represents injured workers, told the Los Angeles Times that the decision affirms “both the common sense application of California law and what every other court in the country has routinely found: that federal immigration law does not pre-empt state workers’ compensation laws.”

There was no immediate comment from Farmer Bros.; a spokesman did not immediately respond to a message left after hours at corporate headquarters.

Some advocates for tougher immigration control criticized the ruling.

“We can’t reward people for breaking the law,” said Andy Ramirez, a spokesman for Friends of the Border Patrol, a Covina-based group that sends members to patrol the U.S. border with Mexico.

The state Department of Finance estimated that 2.6 million illegal immigrants live in California.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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