On Friday, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department ruled that a group of nine undocumented workers injured in a 2005 explosion at a pumpkin and onion farm north of Syracuse can testify via video from Guatemala and Mexico. Of the injured, who sued the farm, only one worker is still in U.S. The court held that transporting the other eight plaintiffs to testify in person was not reasonable and barring them from testifying would encourage companies to keep hiring undocumented workers in risky jobs.
Justice Eugene Fahey said in a unanimous decision that “To deprive plaintiffs of the opportunity to testify at trial via video would be tantamount to depriving them of their day in court.”
In the instant case, the accident was caused by the explosion of propane tanks fueled by a gas stove. Six of the workers are from Guatemala and three are from Mexico. All of them suffered serious injuries. One became paraplegic, and the tenth worker was killed.
The men sued the makers of the stove which exploded and the owners of the farm along with the gas service which had filled the propane tanks on the site. On February 2011, the plaintiffs moved for permission to complete depositions and testify at trial from their origin countries. By August all the men saved one, left the U.S.
The defendants have argued that remote testimony would prejudice them due to potential chances of perjury and technical failure and the inability to properly evaluate the extent of injuries. Further, the lawyer for the defendants said that the trial called by the plaintiffs was “a consequence of their illegal activity.”
However, the court held, “Allowing plaintiffs to testify from Mexico and Guatemala via video is generally consistent with sound public policy … To hold otherwise would undercut tort deterrence principles and encourage employment of aliens not lawfully present in the United States.”
The case is Hugo Rafael Ramirez Gabriel, et al v. Johnston’s LP Gas Service, et al, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, No. 587.