A carpenter was awarded $2.6 million from a King County jury Tuesday in a 13-year legal battle that revolved around the relevancy of immigration status when a worker sues an employer for negligence.
A carpenter was awarded $2.6 million from a King County jury Tuesday in a 13-year legal battle that revolved around the relevancy of immigration status when a person who is in the country illegally sues a company for negligence.
The King County Superior Court case bounced between several courts over the years. The plaintiff, Alex Salas, 46, of Houston, came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1989 and worked in construction. His visa expired in 1994.
His legal fight started in 2002, when he was climbing scaffolding put in place by Hi-Tech Erectors on a wet day in October. The ladder didn’t have “a textured surface to prevent slipping,” according to a 2010 court decision. Salas slipped and fell more than 20 feet. He sued Hi-Tech for negligence. He suffered 10 fractures and underwent 13 surgeries, with five more to come, his attorney said.
Before the trial in King County Superior Court, it was revealed that Salas was in the country illegally. The jury ruled in 2006 that Hi-Tech had been negligent but didn’t award Salas money, saying the company wasn’t the cause of Salas’ injury. Salas and his attorney protested that the jury had been prejudiced because they knew of his immigration status.
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The case eventually reached the Washington State Supreme Court, which said the lower court used “abuse of discretion” when it included Salas’ immigration status in the trial. The case returned to King County Superior Court for a new jury trial.
Salas can use the money he receives for past and future medical expenses, his attorney, Rob Kornfeld of Kornfeld, Trudell, Bowen and Lingenbrink, said. Salas has applied for citizenship, Kornfeld said.
“The case primarily stands for the people from different countries, different cultures and diverse backgrounds,” Kornfeld said.