Can I Sue if I'm Injured in Another Country?

June 27, 2017

International travel is easier and more commonplace than ever before. People travel for work, school, vacation, and to visit family in foreign nations. Most of the time, travel plans work out without a hitch. When accidents do happen, understanding your legal options can help you properly react to the situation and take proper preparations before future travels.

Mexico, Injuries, and Legal Action

Here in Southern California, U.S. citizens travel to Mexico on a routine basis. Moving through the border crossing often feels like moving through state toll booths. Many locals commute for work, while others head down to Mexico on sightseeing weekend getaways or to explore the country for longer periods.
Although Mexico offers a thriving tourist market, travelers must remember Mexico’s legal system varies significantly from ours. If you broke a leg in a slip and fall accident at a restaurant, for instance, the country’s legal system may not provide more than a couple thousand dollars in relief – maximum. U.S. attorneys rarely recommend filing a lawsuit within Mexican borders. Instead, we recommend returning home and talking with a local personal injury attorney about your options.
Since United States courts treat cases according to the jurisdictional laws where an injury took place, you may not escape Mexico’s slim options for recovery. However, every case is different, and you may have more than one legal option.

Filing an Injury Lawsuit Involving a Foreign Country

For all international injury claims brought to the U.S., either the local laws where the injury took place or U.S. common tort laws will govern legal proceedings. After filing to pursue the case in a domestic jurisdiction, a foreign business may request forum non conveniens relief, meaning the selected legal forum is not convenient for the company, in an attempt for a dismissal.
Businesses can’t always dismiss a claim based on this request. If the business has a local office in the domestic jurisdiction, advertises its products or services in the local market, or meets other criteria, a judge may require the company to address the claim within a U.S. court.
In some cases, a traveler will suffer an injury associated with an American-based business operating abroad. Whether on a cruise or traveling with an American-owned tourist company, an injured traveler may file a claim against the business under relevant U.S. laws (regardless of the jurisdiction where the incident took place).
If you suffered a preventable injury in a foreign country, your attorney can explain the nuances of your case and foreign laws more specifically. In general, challenges to foreign claims include:

  • Logistical challenges. Your attorney must understand where the incident took place, possible courts, and the laws that will apply in the case.
  • Investigatory challenges. Investigating and building a case that occurred outside of U.S. borders often presents significant challenges. The U.S. cannot force foreign witnesses to come to the U.S. for the claim. While technology may one day change this reality, even identifying foreign witnesses to an accident can present a challenge. Police and accident reporting standards vary across countries, too. You and your attorney may struggle to obtain meaningful reports on the incident.
  • Travel contract challenges. Some foreign excursion businesses and tourist companies require travelers to sign legal waivers before participating in an activity. Depending on the content of the waiver and the circumstances, legal indemnity clauses may prevent a claim.

Other Possible Avenues for Recovery in International Incidents

We strongly urge foreign travelers, especially those who travel frequently, to invest in international travel insurance for both work and leisure trips. Before you go on a trip, understand how your health insurance would cover an injury and consider supplemental coverage.
If you cannot file a traditional lawsuit and attain a satisfactory recovery, you may file a claim against your own insurance policy for injury coverage. Injury attorneys who handle international claims can help you navigate the complexities of these insurance claims for maximum compensation.
Every country enforces a different set of injury laws, and some offer more options for recovery than others. No attorney can guarantee an outcome in a personal injury case, but an experienced international injury attorney can help you understand the laws that apply in your situation.
Please note: Our team at Estey & Bomberger, LLP do not actually handle international cases like this, but we will be more than happy to refer you to other legal council that will be able to assist with your case.