The Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether an employer’s rights under the Workers’ Compensation Law, Section 11, are eliminated if the injured employee filing a claim is an undocumented alien. The Court of Appeals is the State’s highest court. This decision applies when an undocumented worker sues a third party and recovers. From there, the party sued may seek recovery from the employer. This will often happen if the employer was also at fault.
Third Party Claims Under Workers’ Compensation Law
In that case, New York Hospital (building owner) hired Microtech (contractor) to perform demolition. Microtech hired brothers to perform this work. The brothers were undocumented aliens. They began work at the site after receiving instructions from Microtech. The brothers used sledge hammers. They also used chipping guns. As they were removing a metal wall, vibrations shifted a metal chimney. The chimney fell, injuring the brothers.
The brothers filed claims for workers’ compensation benefits. Microtech’s insurance handled the claims. The brothers also sued the hospital. They argued violations of the New York Labor Law. The case went to trial. The brother’s received a verdict in their favor.
The Hospital’s Claim Against Microtech
The hospital then brought a lawsuit against Microtech. This was an action to recover damages the hospital paid in the Labor Law case. The hospital argued that Microtech had breached its contract. It also argued that Microtech had violated Immigration laws by hiring undocumented workers. The hospital further alleged that Section 11 did not bar its lawsuit against Microtech.
In response, Microtech asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. It argued that Workers Compensation law, Section 11, barred the hospital’s claim. To recover under that section, there must be a “grave injury” or a contractual agreement for recovery. Microtech argued there was neither in this case. Importantly, Section 11 specifically defines a grave injury. Generally, a grave injury is one that causes death, amputation, total and permanent loss of a system. Or, it causes a brain injury resulting in total disability.
The Court of Appeals’ Decision
The Court of Appeals noted that this case was not about an employment contract. Instead, the Court was only asked to apply claims under Workers Compensation Law, Section 11. Section 11 limits an employer’s exposure to situations where the employee suffers a grave injury, or the employer enters into a written contract for that type of recovery.
In this case, the undocumented brothers did not suffer a grave injury. Also, there was no agreement for contribution or indemnification between the hospital and Microtech. As such, the Court found that Section 11 gave Microtech protection.