Thursday, May 18, 2006

The slope is starting to get slippery

The New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a decision today which essentially holds that illegal aliens (which the NJ Supremes refer to as "undocumented aliens") are residents eligible to collect from a state fund set up to compensate victims of accidents involving uninsured motorists. Pursuant to statute, the fund is reserved for New Jersey residents and residents of other states or countries that give reciprocal benefits to New Jerseyans.

In this specific case, Victor Manuel Caballero, a Mexican national who had been living in the Jersey Shore area for about 5 months prior to his accident, was a passenger in a car driven by a co-worker whose vehicle was not insured or registered. The co-worker fell asleep at the wheel and hit a parked tractor-trailer. Caballero, who was 17 years old at the time, suffered permanent (but not disabling) injuries.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, Caballero sought payment from the uninsured motorist fund. The trial court denied him benefits because, as an illegal alien, he was not a bona fide New Jersey resident. The appellate court agreed. The decision issued today by the Supreme Court holds that the lower courts were incorrect and allows further proceedings on Caballero's claims.

Mr. Caballero is seeking payment from a fund that is financed by insurance companies doing business in New Jersey (its a tax, plain and simple). Those costs, of course, are then passed on to the insurance companies' customers -- better known as you and me. The result is that our car insurance rates -- already some of the highest rates in the country -- go up when the fund needs more money.

We think that this decision highlights a problem much larger than merely allowing one illegal immigrant to collect $50,000 from this particular state fund. Simply put, while illegal immigrants consume resources and use infrastructure built and maintained by hardworking citizens and legal resident aliens, they do not pay into the system. Mr. Caballero is a prime example. While his injuries are unfortunate, he is not paying into this uninsured motorist fund. Nor will he ever (unless he somehow becomes a citizen, gets a driver's license, buys a car and can afford insurance). He is also likely not paying income tax on his wages (which the court stated were about $400 a week). But he expects the legitimate taxpayers (and insurance policy purchasers) of this state to foot the bill when he needs help. We're sorry Mr. Caballero, it just doesn't work that way. Or so we thought before the Supremes in Trenton spoke today.

In a state with a $5 billion budget shortfall, higher-than-average job loss, a governor who is hell bent on raising taxes, and a Supreme Court that "do[es] not consider federal immigration law" when making decisions concerning illegal aliens, the last thing we need is to open up the coffers to yet another taxpayer financed (essentially) fund. What's next, the almost-defunct social security trust fund?

Note: So that we are not accused of being uncaring, we empathize with Mr. Caballero and are sorry that he suffered permanent injuries at the hands of a driver who broke the law in operating a motor vehicle without insurance. We hope he heals and can live a productive, law abiding life.

The co-worker, Ricardo Martinez, whose vehicle was not insured or registered, was also an illegal alien. Since Caballero couldn’t sue and have any hope of recovering damages from Martinez, he in essence was arguing for the right to sue insured New Jersey motorists.

Because the coworker's car was from Pennsylvania, the New Jersey uninsured motorist fund will not cover Caballero $38,300 medical costs. As a result, Caballero's medical bills were paid through the state’s (taxpayer) fund for charity care. Therefore, Caballero was granted the right by the NJ Supreme Court to seek compensation for pain and suffering from the NJ uninsured motorist fund.

After all is said and done how much you do suppose Victor M. Covelli, Esq. will take home and how much will Victor Manuel Caballero receive?
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