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Latinos and The American Legal System

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Article 16-02
¡No Se Deje!

After practicing law for over 30 years, I have at times been frustrated in my efforts to aggressively represent Latino clients because of their resistance to do everything possible to win. I soon determined that our noble and respectable Latino culture often instilled in us standards of conduct that placed us at a disadvantage in the aggressive, combative, and often hostile American legal system. When a legal dispute arises, each party must defeat the claims of the other party to succeed. This means that for one party to win, the other must lose. Victims that take immediate action and seek legal advice are much more likely to prevail.

Our Latino culture provides much for us to be proud of. As a community, and as a society, Latinos are hard working, disciplined, and dependable and face adversity with courage, patience, and resolve. Latinos are taught to endure extreme hardship with dignity and rarely complain. All of these values and qualities that help Latinos live honorable and content lives also make them reluctant to do the things that can help them use the American legal system successfully. The following are just a few examples that illustrate my conclusions:

In auto accident cases, Latinos are often so careful not to offend the other party that they often fail to assert that the other party caused the accident and to ask for all of the necessary information. Latinos often agree not to call the police or to request a police report that assigns fault and lists witnesses. Too often victims fail to go to the hospital or to the doctor even when they are injured and in pain. And, too often victims wait entirely too long before calling an attorney to represent them against the party that caused their injuries. When asked why they waited so long to seek legal assistance, the most common response is “la decidia” (carelessness, negligence). In this country, waiting too long to file a claim or lawsuit can permanently bar you from doing so.

In cases of accidents and injuries at work, Latinos are often reluctant to file a claim for benefits because they think that the employer will fire them or retaliate against them in other ways. It is against the law to fire an employee for filing a worker’s compensation claim if injured at work. Filing a claim is not being disloyal and employers in California cannot do anything that they want against employees in this country.

As Latinos, we believe that we must pay our bills and that it is not honorable to fail or refuse to pay them. In the American legal system, legally avoiding paying certain bills is not only permitted but is considered astute and effective use of the law. For example, Federal Bankruptcy law permits the lawful cancellation of enormous amounts of debt and the best accident attorneys make it a point to reduce even legitimate hospital and medical bills so that the accident victims can keep more money. It is proper use of the law and it is honorable. Your adversary will do it and you should too.

If you feel that you have been wronged, take immediate action and get legal advice and representation. Follow your attorney’s advice. Do not let cultural and social traditions stop you from acting quickly to assert and protect your rights. ¡ NO SE DEJE! ®

JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.

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