Moving around from one base to another is one of the most common aspects of military service. From temporary duty assignments to deployments to base reassignments, travel is virtually inevitable for most active-duty military families and Reserve members.
What happens when a military servicemember or family member is injured on base in the U.S., but is then sent out of state or overseas before they can file or finalize the claim for compensation? Are personnel required to find a lawyer in the country or state where they are stationed, or can they still work with a local lawyer? This blog seeks to reassure injured servicemembers that they have legal rights that can be heard right here in Georgia.
Cases Stay in the Jurisdiction They Were Filed In
In personal injury cases, the plaintiff—the injury victim—gets to decide where to file the claim when there is more than one option for courts that potentially have jurisdiction.
Generally, a personal injury suit is filed in the state where the defendant—the person or company liable—resides, or in the state where the injury occurred. For example, if you live in Georgia but you get into a wreck that wasn’t your fault in Alabama, the claim might need to be filed in Alabama.
However, the court will also take into consideration fairness, efficiency, and the burden on the parties involved. For example, if two states potentially have jurisdiction, one court may turn their jurisdiction over if it is significantly more inconvenient for any of the parties to attend court there than the other state.
Once a claim is filed, however, it usually stays in that court. When military members are deployed, their cases in the American court system aren’t transferred to that other country’s court system. Even if they could be, it would arguably place an undue burden on the other party!
Thankfully, U.S. military personnel injured in non-service-related accidents have two options:
- They can work remotely with a lawyer who practices in the community where the injury occurred. The Law Offices of Gary Bruce have represented servicemembers stationed around the world and all over the U.S. in cases taking place in Georgia and Alabama.
- They can ask to pause the statute of limitations (how long they have to file a claim) until they return to the U.S. This is called “tolling,” and is an exception granted under a few specific circumstances, including military service.
Can The Court Conclude My Case Without Me (and Not in My Favor)?
Absolutely not! The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects servicemembers from default judgments for failing to appear. Even soldiers who are sued can “stay” the proceedings (which causes delay sometimes). You have a protected right to appear in person to defend yourself against civil filings, including car accident claims, and that right is still protected if you’re currently serving in the armed forces.
Any time a civil case is filed, it must be determined whether one of the parties is a member of the military before a default judgment can be entered. If they are, they can get an extension of a minimum of 90 days (and often much longer).
Soldiers have the option to put a case on until they are no longer active duty, but their family members are not given that same protection. Even in circumstances when cases can be delayed, witnesses may move, evidence gets dusty or hard to find, and the sense of urgency disappears. Often the best option after an injury is to file early and let your lawyer assist you, when at all possible, rather than wait until you return to the States.
Get Gary Bruce If You Need Help with Your Overseas Personal Injury Claim
Our firm has been proudly serving military families around Ft. Benning for many years. We know our way around the complexities surrounding personal injury claims when the victims are unable to appear because they are in different time zones, or even different countries. We have handled cases for personnel stationed everywhere from Afghanistan to Timbuktu—literally. Video conferencing and other online tools have allowed us to keep in constant contact with our clients and keep their cases moving forward. Injured servicemembers don’t even need to keep getting medical treatment from the same facility, if they end up transferred. We are able to collect those medical records from wherever you end up receiving treatment.
Contact our firm today for a free consultation and learn how we can help you get and keep the full compensation you are entitled to after an injury that wasn’t your fault.