A Harris County jury awarded the family of 21-year old Oscar Alfredo Gomez $1,400,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Republic Waste Services. Republic Waste filed an appeal of that award based on an unusual legal argument: that Gomez was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador and that the jury should have heard evidence of his immigration status during the trial. Republic’s appeal claims that Gomez’ immigration status should have been a factor in the calculation of Gomez’ family’s loss of his future lost income. Attorneys handling the appeal for Republic Waste claim that Gomez probably would have been detected and deported during an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid of Republic’s Houston office that took place two weeks after Gomez died. As such, argued Republic Waste’s lawyers, Gomez’ future lost income should have been calculated based on his likely annual wages in El Salvador ($1,000/year) versus his wages working in Houston ($33,000/year).
The First Court of Appeals disagreed with Republic’s argument and in a January 20th opinion said that the trial court correctly exercised its discretion in not allowing the jury to hear evidence of Gomez’ immigration status. The appeals court said that Republic’s claim that Gomez would have been deported in the raid was “speculative” on Republic’s part.
Gomez was killed January 15, 2007 when he was run over by a garbage truck driven by another Republic Waste employee. After his death Republic discovered Gomez had falsified his immigration paperwork and used another person’s social security number to get the job. The lawsuit against Republic was filed by Gomez’ common law wife who lives in Houston with their daughter and by his father who lives in El Salvador. The driver of the trash truck that killed Gomez and Republic Waste were sued. The jury found in favor of the Gomez family and awarded $1,400,000 which included $1,275,000 for future lost wages.