U.S. active duty servicemembers can be involved in lawsuits, including personal injury claims, outside of and regardless of their military duties. When this happens, they may be granted special benefits not afforded in ordinary lawsuits between civilians and civilian entities.
What is the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act?
Also known as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), this 2003 act is a revised and updated version of the original 1940 Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, which was intended to ease the financial burdens of active duty servicemembers.
Protections cover a range of topics from lowered interest rates to eviction protection to penalty-free lease termination, and even deferred income taxes.
However, the SCRA provides not only financial protections for active duty servicemembers, but also legal protections. This can help active duty servicemembers when they are involved in civil lawsuits like personal injury claims.
How Does the SCRA Protect Me in Civil Lawsuits?
The most common way the SCRA impacts active duty servicemembers is by allowing them to postpone action in civil court, both when they need to sue and when they are being sued. A common example would be when an active duty servicemember is involved in a car accident and is either pursuing compensation for their injuries or is being held liable by the other driver.
When a Servicemember Needs to File a Civil Lawsuit
Typically, the statute of limitations in Georgia and Alabama for filing a personal injury lawsuit after being injured in a car crash is two years from the day of the crash. However, if the deadline comes up before the end of your period of service in Georgia, you can extend the time in which you have to file until after your period of service ends so that the lawsuit does not interfere with your military duties. Essentially, the clock stops ticking down until your period of service ends.
This is called “tolling,” and can save a case. But it should not substitute for taking action far earlier.
This provision doesn’t mean you are required to wait until after your military service ends to file a lawsuit, and you shouldn’t! If you can, it is usually better to start a lawsuit sooner rather than later so it’s easier to collect evidence and testimony from witnesses is still fresh in their minds.
When a Servicemember is Being Sued in Civil Court
Tolling works both ways. Active duty servicemembers can’t be required to show up in court to be sued when they are accused of being at fault for a car crash IF IT INTERFERES WITH THEIR MILITARY SERVICE. If they meet certain requirements, active duty servicemembers can get a “stay” (delay) of minimum 90 days, and often longer. In Georgia, if the defendant in your case is active duty, a case can be brought even after the typical two-year period.
The SCRA also provides protection from default judgments against active duty servicemembers. This is when the plaintiff automatically wins because the defendant did not show up to defend themselves in court. A judge or jury can’t enter a judgement on a case without:
- Making sure the plaintiff is aware they are being sued
- Confirming whether the defendant is in the military
- Ensuring the plaintiff has an attorney to represent them, if they are
If you are unsure whether you meet the requirements for tolling a civil lawsuit, contact our Fort Benning-area personal injury law firm today. We have worked with active duty servicemembers and their families for nearly 30 years, and we can advise you on how to take best advantage of your rights and the privileges you’ve earned with your service.
Who is Covered Under the SCRA?
All branches of the U.S. military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) are protected, including the National Guard and reservists who have received call-up orders but have not yet reported for duty. Also included are servicemembers who are absent from duty because of an injury or from being granted leave.
Family members of active duty servicemembers may also be protected under this act, but because it can get complicated, we recommend speaking to one of our lawyers about your individual situation.
When Do SCRA Protections No Longer Apply?
Only ACTIVE DUTY servicemembers can receive SCRA benefits and protection. Veterans are not protected by this act. Typically benefits and protections end when a servicemember is discharged, within 30-90 days of being discharged, or upon death.
If you are unsure if you qualify for SCRA protection, contact a lawyer to discuss your case.
Gary Bruce Protects Soldiers
At the Law Offices of Gary Bruce, we greatly respect the men and women who serve our country, and we believe that they deserve special consideration for what they often have to give up in doing so. We have been working with military families, retirees, and dependents, as well as active duty personnel, for almost 30 years and have represented people who have had a case in this area and moved from Ft. Benning to everywhere from Timbuctoo to Hawaii to Afghanistan – and been able to keep them informed throughout the process.
If you or someone you love is currently serving at Fort Benning or another military base and is in need of legal help, we’re available to answer questions and represent you in civil courts of law. Contact our firm today for a free, no obligation case evaluation to discuss your claim and your options.