Civil Rights

Immigrants’ Right to Sue

February 11, 2020
Civil Rights|Personal Injury Attorney Jae Oh

Table Of Contents


Every person in the U.S. is entitled to quality medical care without regard to their immigration status. Similarly, every person has the right to bring a personal injury claim if they are hurt through the negligence or wrongdoing of others. Nevertheless, there are immigrants with potentially good personal injury, medical malpractice, and/or civil rights cases who fail to obtain just compensation for the injuries they have sustained.

One major reason for this is that many immigrants are not aware of the importance of having highly skilled lawyers.

"They often retain solo practitioners within their own ethnic groups, not realizing that the complexity of their case may require a law firm with greater, more specific experience."

This is particularly true in matters where profound injustice or a catastrophic injury has taken place. Medical malpractice cases, for example, are always challenging. Medical providers rarely admit mistakes and count on plaintiffs giving up, as the majority of injured patients do. An experienced personal injury lawyer knows how to obtain relevant medical records, review the case, file a lawsuit, and negotiate the case with the defendants with minimal in-person involvement on the client’s part.

Another reason why immigrants do not get their just compensation is that many of them have erroneous beliefs about the consequences of filing suit. They may think that their lack of financial resources would interfere with their ability to proceed with a lawsuit. [1] It comes as a shock to many that getting a case evaluated by an attorney is free of cost. Also, in Korea and many other countries, contingency fee arrangements, where a law firm advances the fees and expenses, simply do not exist. In addition, immigrants may fear that a lawsuit will take up too much of their time, not knowing that a typical civil lawsuit does not require much active involvement at all on the plaintiff’s part. Other than during a deposition, which is usually a one-day event, the defendants’ attorneys are generally forbidden from speaking with the plaintiff. Moreover, when a client speaks with a personal injury attorney, that conversation is protected from disclosure by an attorney-client privilege. This means that immigration status and other information cannot be disclosed to others without the client’s consent.

Fear of the judicial system is understandable. Immigrants may feel overwhelmed and confused by the court system. Undocumented immigrants may also worry that filing a personal injury claim might result in their arrest and deportation. But it is important for all immigrants to understand that they do have the right to sue for compensation for injuries caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of others. Under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution,

“Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Supreme Court has consistently agreed that this sentence refers to all persons in the United States, regardless of their immigration status. Furthermore, in New York, which has a large population of undocumented immigrants, state courts agree that a person’s immigration status should have no bearing on whether they receive compensation for being injured.[2]

From personal experience, I understand that prestigious plaintiffs’ law firms can feel unapproachable for immigrants who seek legal counsel. As a Korean citizen who came to the United States at the age of 18, my closest friends tend to be international students who have also come to the United States to pursue educational and vocational aspirations that they could not achieve in their home country. Many of them have shied away from pursuing a law degree, and particularly from aspiring to be a litigator, given how much emphasis is put on oral advocacy skills. In fact, it is rare to find a bilingual plaintiff’s attorney who is perfectly fluent and conversant in the languages and cultures of more than one country. As a first-generation immigrant who is privileged to work as a lawyer at a highly successful plaintiffs’ law firm, I strive to make quality legal services more accessible and approachable to immigrant populations.

As a small step in this direction, included below a description of our law firm and the services it provides, translated into Korean:

미국 내에서 사고, 상해, 의료사고, 인권침해 등으로 인하여 심각한 피해를 입으신 경우, 이민 신분과 무관하게 민사 소송을 진행하여 정당한 손해배상을 받으실 수 있습니다. 단, 최선의 결과를 얻기 위해서는 해당 분야에 경험이 많은 소송 변호사들과 케이스를 진행하는 것이 매우 중요합니다. 저희 제이콥 퓩스버그 로펌은 뉴욕 및 뉴저지 인근에서 사고상해, 의료사고 및 인권침해를 당한 피해자들을 변호하는 데에 근 40년 이상의 풍부한 경험을 바탕으로 성공적인 결과를 이끌어내는 것으로 잘 알려져 있습니다. 또한 스페인어, 한국어 등에 능통한 여러 변호사들이 친절하고 신중한 케이스 분석과 진행을 제공해 드립니다. 케이스 상담 및 진행 과정에 있어서 발생하는 비용은 전액 로펌 측에서 부담하며, 이는 오직 케이스가 성공적으로 종결될 시에만 그 합의금 혹은 배상금에서 제해지게 됩니다. 그러니 가족이나 지인, 혹은 본인에게 의료 사고 등의 심각한 상해가 발생하여 피해를 입으신 경우, 212-869-3500 으로 전화하셔서 Jae Oh (오재현) 변호사에게 문의하시기 바랍니다.

[1] Lise Johnson, You Can Violate the Rights of Undocumented Persons with Impunity: The Shocking Message Arizona’s Constitution Sends and Its Inconsistency With International Law, 13 J. Gᴇɴᴅᴇʀ Rᴀᴄᴇ & Jᴜsᴛ. 491, 492 (2010).
[2] See Balbuena v. IDR Realty LLC, 845 N.E.2d 1246.