The Law has Changed for Injured Idaho Undocumented Workers

By Fred J. Lewis

La ley ha cambiado. Los trabajadores lesionados indocumentados ahora pueden obtener los beneficios discapacidad que se les pagan.

There has been a big change in Idaho law. Idaho workers’ compensation insurance companies now have to pay undocumented workers all benefits available under the Idaho Workers’ Compensation Act. In the past, undocumented workers were only entitled to be paid medical benefits to cover bills with doctors and hospitals, total temporary disability benefits, and permanent partial impairment rating benefits. The Idaho Industrial Commission had decided in the Diaz case that there was no legal labor market for undocumented workers, and they were not entitled to either permanent partial disability benefits or total and permanent disability benefits.

In Marquez v. Pierce Painting Inc. decided on July 10, 2017, the Commission completely reversed themselves and decided that undocumented injured workers are entitled to payment of permanent partial disability benefits and total and permanent disability benefits. This decision now opens the door to undocumented injured workers to be paid millions of dollars in workers’ compensation benefits. This decision is also consistent with most other states in the United States. The interesting wrinkle in Idaho is that the Idaho Workers’ Compensation Act is silent as to whether or not undocumented injured workers should be paid any workers’ compensation benefits. Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all have Workers’ Compensation Acts that expressly state that undocumented injured workers are to be paid all benefits under their states’ Workers’ Compensation Acts. The Idaho Industrial Commission did the right thing.

The Defendants in Marquez did not like the outcome of the decision from the Commission. They filed a Motion to Reconsider under Rule 3(G) of the Judicial Rules of Practice and Procedure under the Idaho Workers’ Compensation law. In the Commission’s Order on Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration, decided on August 25, 2017, the Commission cited to the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision of Sanchez v. Galey, 112 Idaho 609, 733 P. 2d 1234(1986). In Sanchez, the injured farm worker was undocumented and was subject to deportation. Mr. Sanchez had lost his arm in the accident and had brought a personal injury claim against his employer in District Court because farmer workers at that time were expressly excluded from the Idaho Workers’ Compensation system. Mr. Sanchez was able to bring the personal injury claim against his employer. The Idaho Supreme Court upheld the damage award to Mr. Sanchez because he had resided in the US for six years at the time of trial and had worked a significant amount of time for the employer he was then suing. Reading between the lines, the Idaho Supreme Court decided that undocumented workers do have actual labor markets that they can seek employment in. In Marquez, the Commission decided the rule they would follow would be to treat undocumented workers the same as if they were in Idaho legally in measuring their loss of labor market access, both before and after the accident. Loss of labor market access is a major factor in deciding the value of an Idaho Workers’ Compensation case. The Commission stated that utilizing this rule would make the evaluation of disability claims of undocumented injured workers the same as legally employed workers.

The Marquez case is now on appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court and will be argued sometime in 2018. Given how important this is to injured Idaho workers, the Idaho Supreme Court should have this case decided before the end of 2018.

If you are an undocumented Idaho worker, and you have been injured on the job, please contact us at Racine Olson by calling 208-232-6101. We will answer your questions for free and tell you if you have a case. Call us today.

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