Few things are more stressful in the moment than a car accident, and when personal injury is involved, the stress can become downright dangerous.
If you were injured in a car accident with a foreign national, the legal process can seem even more daunting. What if they leave the country? What if they are uninsured, or insured in a different country or territory? These are complicated matters that will often require strategy, forethought, and patience. Because Florida is an international hub with plenty of tourism, it’s not uncommon for these types of issues to arise in our state.
In this blog post, we will discuss how a Florida car accident with a foreign national may be different from other types of car accidents, how you can best protect your rights, and what steps you should take to help ensure a positive outcome.
What does it mean to be in an accident with a foreign national?
The term “foreign national” is frequently misused. It is neither specifically named nor defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which instead uses the term “alien” to qualify the many classes of individuals who are not citizens or “nationals” of the United States.
The term “foreign national” is legally defined as someone who is residing in, but is not a legal citizen of, the United States. In the federal election law setting, a “foreign national” means anyone who is not legally allowed to contribute to a federal campaign because they are not “a citizen of the United States…a national of the United States…[or] not lawfully admitted for permanent residence as defined by section 1101(a)(20) of title 8.”
Because a “foreign national” may have citizenship in other countries, (or in certain circumstances, no acknowledged citizenship at all), the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure are sometimes strained when there is an accident or other personal injury lawsuit involving a foreign national.
One of the first issues to address in any vehicle accident is the proper jurisdiction and venue to bring suit. Jurisdiction means the state or country where a lawsuit should be brought, and venue means the specific court within that state or country. For example, Florida state will often have jurisdiction, but the county courts will have “venue.”
Those injured and seeking legal redress, known in the courts as plaintiffs, are generally required to file suit in the jurisdiction where the injury occurred. Accordingly, if you’re injured in Florida, then you would most often file suit in Florida too, even if you are not a citizen of the state. Certain exceptions apply, such as when commercial trucks are involved in the accident, but that is outside the scope of this blog post.
States and territories also have jurisdiction over their citizens, so you would generally be able to bring suit in the state where the Defendant is “domiciled.” But in cases involving foreign nationals, the legal analysis is expanded.
For a foreign national to be sued in a Florida court, the state of Florida must have jurisdiction over that person. Although the courts generally rule that jurisdiction arises if a party has “sufficient contacts” with, is present in, or causes injury to someone in Florida, this issue could be further complicated depending upon whether a foreign national has citizenship in another nation(s) and the reciprocity treaties between those nation(s) and the United States.
Your attorney will need to determine the other driver’s insurance and pursue any claims for “uninsured” or “underinsured” motorist if there is no insurance, or if jurisdiction may not attach. Often you can recover funds from a foreign national’s insurance or your own insurance in these types of incidents, even if there are valid questions of jurisdiction relating to an underlying suit.
And if you’re a foreign national injured in Florida, you will have the right to sue in the state assuming you are the “citizen or subject” of a country that “accords to citizens of the United States the right to prosecute claims against their government…if the subject matter of the suit is otherwise within such court’s jurisdiction.” In other words, if Americans can sue when injured in your country, then you can sue when injured in America. Often the issue of jurisdiction comes down to such “reciprocity,” the idea that the United States will extend jurisdiction rights similar or equal to what United States citizens are offered in other countries.
If a foreign national is a citizen of a country without such reciprocity, or is not considered a citizen of any country, then it may be difficult to sue that individual in Florida, even if they are at fault for the accident. That is because the Court can only grant jurisdiction when the court has standing and “jurisdiction” over the parties. In rare instances, you may even need to retain a foreign lawyer to pursue a lawsuit in the defendant’s country.
If you were injured by a foreign national in Florida, your personal injury lawyer will be able to discuss all aspects of your case with you, including proper jurisdiction and venue.
The law firm of Frolich, Gordon, & Beason, P.A., emphasizes Florida personal injury law. Our firm treats every client as a unique individual, not just another file. We serve Port Charlotte, North Port, Englewood, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Florida. If you were injured in a car accident, then you should call us today at (941) 979-9010 to schedule an initial consultation, or feel free to utilize our firm contact form.
We look forward to hearing from you.