Effective January 1, 2017, attorneys in a personal injury lawsuit in California can neither inquire about nor introduce evidence regarding a personal injury victim’s immigration status. A.B. 2159, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in August, prohibits discovery or admission of such evidence, absent a showing of relevance. The legislation was introduced in response to a trend by defense attorneys in personal injury cases in the state, who had argued that damages in a personal injury claim should be based on medical costs and lost wages in the claimant’s country of origin.
It’s important to note that the legislature not only prohibited the use of such evidence at trial, but also banned efforts to obtain such information during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. The discovery phase is that period when attorneys for both sides seek to gather as much evidence as possible, typically through depositions, requests for production of documents and written questions, known as interrogatories.
Before the legislature acted, the courts in California had addressed the issue numerous times. The longstanding rule of law has been that the immigration status of a personal injury plaintiff is not admissible, with one specific exception—whether the plaintiff is subject to deportation. Even in those situations, though, the courts have generally held that the initial determination of whether such evidence should be heard by a jury must first be heard by the court outside of the hearing of the jurors.
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