Bob Bale and Noemi Esparza of DBBWC were recently honored by Consumer Attorneys of California for the role they played in the passage of AB 2159, which brought about a long-overdue change to California law that, when it goes into effect on January 1, 2017, will end 30 years of discrimination based on immigration status. It will make a difference for clients who don't enjoy the blessings of U.S. citizenship and for CAOC member attorneys who represent them.
The beginning of the end for this injustice occurred in a small room at the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego.
Back in spring 2015, the Consumer Attorneys of California Board of Governors welcomed Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez to a quarterly meeting in San Diego, during which she delivered an impassioned speech on the civil justice system. Then she took questions. CAOC Board Member Bob Bale, a partner at Sacramento's Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP, raised his hand.
He began to talk about a little-known case from way back in 1986, Rodriguez v. Kline, that insurers were increasingly using to intimidate undocumented Californians who were attempting to seek accountability for injuries through the civil justice system. Applying Rodriquez, insurance companies were able to limit claims for future lost income and future costs of medical damages to the amounts the injured person would incur in their country of origin. By way of example, a Mexican immigrant working in the USA for $12 per hour doing labor would receive only $7 a day in Mexico. Over the course of a lifetime, this difference in future lost income represents hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At that time Bob, Roger Dreyer and Noemi Esparza of DBBWC represented a 28-year old man who had been rendered quadriplegic following a single vehicle crash caused by a product defect in the car he was driving. The client, who had young children and a wife, was so badly injured that he would never be able to work again. The defense auto manufacturer signaled its intent to invoke the rule from the Rodriguez case to greatly limit the client's recovery of future lost income and medical costs.
Assembly Member Gonzalez was appalled by this rule of law that clearly targeted and discriminated against undocumented workers, and, astonished that this bad precedent existed, she vowed to fix it. To accomplish this, she enlisted the aid of CAOC's legislative staff, in addition to Bob Bale and Noemi Esparza.
Bob worked with representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and California Employment Lawyers Association to draft legislation intended to preclude evidence of immigration status in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Once the bill was in its final form, Noemi Esparza spoke passionately at numerous legislative committee hearings on its behalf, in a powerful expression of the terrible effect this bad law had on hard working California residents who lived, worked and paid taxes in this state, served in the US military and raised their families here.
Styled as Assembly Bill 2159, the bill proposed a new evidence code section that excluded evidence of immigration status for any purpose in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. The bill passed both houses without objection, and was signed by Governor Brown. The new evidence code section takes effect on January 1, 2017.
CAOC presented Bob Bale and Noemi Esparza with its Legislation of the Year Award for 2016 at the Installation and Awards Dinner held at the Palace Hotel Saturday, November 7, during CAOC's annual convention in San Francisco. Nearly 800 lawyers, legislators and staff attended the event, including the bill's sponsor, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez.