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Payments for Injuries to Workers Here Illegally

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By Simon Akam

NY Times – June 18, 2009

Three illegal immigrants injured in construction accidents in New York were awarded settlements totaling $3.85 million in the past two weeks, lawyers said on Wednesday.

Lawyers representing the three men said that the settlements demonstrated that illegal workers should not be afraid to sue their employers if they are hurt on the job.

“Each of these men was injured in the course of their work on construction sites, and their
immigration status was irrelevant to their right to seek redress for those injuries,” said Brian O’Dwyer, a partner in the Manhattan law firm of O’Dwyer & Bernstien, LLP, which worked on the cases.

The largest award went to a 33-year-old Mexican plumber who was injured by an exploding pipe at 44 Wall Street in Manhattan in December 2004. The man, who was scalded over large portions of his body, settled his damage claim for $2.5 million. The defendants in the case were 44 Wall Owner L.L.C. and Swig Equities, L.L.C.

A spokesman for 44 Wall Owner L.L.C. had no direct comment on the settlement and said that the company had hired a contractor for the job in question and that the injured man worked for the contractor.

Like the other two men who received compensation, the plumber did not want his name published for fear of endangering his family in Mexico.

The second largest settlement went to a 52-year-old Mexican who was injured when a steel beam fell on his foot at 130 Fulton Street in Manhattan on Jan. 30, 2004. The man, a union member, settled with F.J. Sciame Construction Company and Beway Realty Corporation for $750,000.
F.J. Sciame Construction Company did not return calls for comment.

The third worker who received compensation was a 36-year-old Ecuadorian, who was injured while working on a roofing job at the Arverne by the Sea residential development in Queens. He sustained a fractured hip and other injuries when three tresses, each weighing 200 pounds, collapsed on him on Aug. 14, 2007.

“I was very afraid for my children, because I did not know what was going to happen,” he said on Wednesday.

Ultimately he settled his case for $600,000. The defendants were Rockaway Beach Boulevard Construction Company, New Visions Construction Corporation, Benjamin Beechwood Breakers L.L.C. and Benjamin Beechwood Ocean Way L.L.C.

Gerry Romski, a lawyer for Beechwood, said in response to the settlement: “It’s a personal injury matter that was defended by our insurance carrier. The organization always strives to comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations.” According to Mr. O’Dwyer, the right of illegal immigrants in New York to compensation for workplace accidents was affirmed by Balbuena v. I.D.R. Realty L.L.C., a case decided in the New York State Court of Appeals in 2006. The court ruled that laborers who were illegal immigrants had the same rights as other workers.

Speaking on Wednesday, Joel Magallán, the executive director of the Latino advocacy organization Asociación Tepeyac, said that undocumented laborers should stand up to abusive employment practices. “We have a lot of employers who are intimidating the workers,” he said. “They usually tell them they could be deported to their home countries if they are claiming any case.”

Jason Fuiman

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Co-Managing Partner and Chair of O'Dwyer & Bernstien's Labor & Employee Benefits practice, Jason has over twenty years of experience in the New York legal industry.