SC Supreme Court Finds Illegal Immigrant Due Workers' Comp

January 7, 2008 ( - The South Carolina State Supreme Court has determined that an illegal immigrant who gained employment with the use of false documents is still entitled to workers' compensation benefits as provided by state law.

In its decision the high court said the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) does not preempt state law, and Mario B. Curiel is not precluded from receiving benefits. The IRCA prohibits the hiring of unauthorized aliens or the tendering of fraudulent documents to obtain employment.

The South Carolina court cited a North Carolina court decision in a similar case that concluded “[i]t is not the intention of the Committee that the employer sanctions provisions of [IRCA] be used to undermine or diminish in any way labor protections in existing law. . . .”  A similar finding was also made previously in a California court (See Company Must Pay Workers’ Comp to Illegal Immigrant).

The court further said that contrary to allowing benefits to injured unauthorized workers conflicting with the IRCA, “disallowing benefits would mean unscrupulous employers could hire undocumented workers without the burden of insuring them – a consequence that would encourage rather than discourage the hiring of illegal workers.”

Curiel filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits after he was struck in the right eye and suffered a detached retina. The single commissioner found Curiel had a compensable injury to his right eye and awarded permanent benefits based on a 60% loss of use. Environmental Management Services, Curiel’s employer, and the workers’ compensation benefits insurer appealed the decision.

A circuit court found Curiel should have been awarded temporary total benefits, and remanded to the Commission to determine benefits accordingly.  Curiel’s employer and the insurance company again appealed.

The South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision is here .