Undocumented immigrants have standing to bring suits for injuries negligently inflicted upon them in Wisconsin.
I. Undocumented Immigrants Likely Have Standing to Bring Personal Injury Suits in Wisconsin
In Arteaga v. Literski, an undocumented family of five filed a lawsuit against their gas company, their landlord, and their landlord's insurer after they were injured in a natural gas explosion caused by an opening in the housing pipe that supplied natural gas to their apartment. 83 Wis. 2d 128, 129, 265 N.W.2d 148 (1978). Following depositions, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Arteagas' undocumented status precluded them from bringing a civil suit. The trial court granted the defendant's motion, holding that undocumented immigrants do not have standing to bring personal injury suits in Wisconsin state courts. Id. citing Coules v. Pharris 212 Wis. 558, 506, 250 N.W. 404 (1933). The Arteagas appealed and the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed holding that undocumented immigrants have the right to sue in Wisconsin courts for injuries negligently inflicted upon them.
II. Bringing a Civil Suit on Behalf of an Undocumented Immigrant Raises Concerns that can be Mitigated
An undocumented immigrant's greatest concern in deciding whether to file a civil lawsuit is likely the fear of potential deportation. There is no governmental procedure that notifies U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) when an undocumented immigrant has filed a civil suit. In fact, there does not appear to be any case in which ICE has sought out an undocumented individual as a result of his/her filing a civil suit. Therefore, filing a lawsuit in and of itself should not trigger any deportation concerns for an undocumented immigrant.
Additional resources provided by the author
Department of Homeland Security, “Policies for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants,” November 20, 2014.
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