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Indiana High Court: Immigration Status Inadmissible At Trial

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Photo: WFIU/WTIU News

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The immigration status of a Mexican native who is suing over lost wages in a workplace injury case should not be considered at trial because it can cause unfair prejudice, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

The state’s high court reversed a lower court ruling that the immigration status of Noe Escamilla was admissible in his lawsuit against an Indianapolis construction company. Escamilla, who entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico with his parents at age 15, married a U.S. citizen and has three children who are also American citizens, his attorney has said.

“Indiana’s tort trials should be about making injured parties whole — not about federal immigration policies and laws,” the high court said in a 5-0 ruling written by Chief Justice Loretta Rush and issued Thursday.

Escamilla sued Shiel Sexton Co. Inc. for lost future wages after he slipped on ice in 2010 and severely injured his back while helping to lift a heavy masonry capstone at Wabash College in Crawfordsville. Court documents say a doctor found Escamilla’s injury left him unable to lift more than 20 pounds, effectively ending his career as a masonry laborer.

Because Escamilla is a lawful resident of Mexico, Shiel Sexton argued that any lost wages he is able to claim should be based on the rate of pay available in Mexico, and not U.S. wages. A Montgomery County trial court ruled in Shiel Sexton’s favor, finding that two witnesses who reviewed Escamilla’s U.S. tax returns could not testify about his lost earnings and that his immigration status could be entered as evidence.

Rush’s 19-page opinion said the Indiana Constitution’s Open Courts Clause allows unauthorized immigrants to pursue claims for decreased earning capacity damages. It also said “that while a plaintiff’s unauthorized immigration status is relevant to decreased earning capacity damages, admitting it would result in a collateral mini-trial on immigration — a mini-trial that brings significant risks of confusing the issues and unfair prejudice.”

Such risks outweigh the relevance of the immigration status, making it inadmissible in most cases, the ruling said.

The court sent the case back to the trial court with instructions on reconsidering the testimony of the two witnesses who were to testify about Escamilla’s lost earnings.

Phone calls to the office of a Shiel Sexton attorney rang unanswered late Friday afternoon.

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