- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Illegal aliens injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits despite their legal status, a state appeals court ruled.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in a case involving Torrance, Calif.-based coffee roaster Farmer Bros. Co., which had tried to deny workers’ compensation benefits to an employee who was in the country illegally.

Farmers Bros. argued that federal immigration laws superseded the state’s workers’ compensation system, which provides medical care and disability benefits to injured employees.

The court disagreed, upholding an earlier decision against Farmer Bros. by the state Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

“California law has expressly declared immigration status irrelevant to the issue of liability to pay compensation to an injured worker,” the three-judge panel said in a unanimous ruling issued late Monday.

The plaintiff, Rafael Ruiz, 35, said he injured his shoulders, back, neck and hands by repeatedly lifting heavy sacks of coffee beans, according to his attorney’s case file.

Lawyer Kari Krogseng of San Leandro, who filed a brief on behalf of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, which represents injured workers, told the Los Angeles Times that the decision affirms “both the common-sense application of California law and what every other court in the country has routinely found — that federal immigration law does not pre-empt state workers’ compensation laws.”

There was no comment from Farmer Bros., and a spokesman did not respond to a message left after hours at corporate headquarters.

Some advocates for tougher immigration control criticized the ruling.

“We can’t reward people for breaking the law,” said Andy Ramirez, a spokesman for Friends of the Border Patrol, a Covina, Calif.-based volunteer group.

The state Department of Finance estimated that 2.6 million illegal aliens live in California.

Last month, Maryland’s Court of Appeals ruled 6-1 that illegal aliens are covered under the state’s workers’ compensation law, even if they are not lawfully employed. In that Sept. 12 ruling, Chief Judge Robert Bell said there is no doubt that the “clear and unambiguous language of [the law] encompasses undocumented aliens” and that “any uncertainty in the law should be resolved in favor of the claimant.”

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