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Who is responsible when accidents occur overseas? Tristan Hallam explains:

It is no coincidence that the word ‘Naval’, and ‘disasters’ has been heard together as a phrase on numerous occasions. I have blogged previously on how dangerous it is for those employed working in vessels on the sea.

The whole point about working in ships, and sometimes in and around the sea and water (apart from the fact that we cannot breath underwater and therein lies an inherent risk), is that the sea is by its very nature unpredictable.

I therefore read with sadness in The Telegraph newspaper (22nd June 2011 – page 4) only a small article of how 2 officers were killed in an incident that occurred in December 2006 as they were struck by a 20 foot wave which crushed them against the hull of a US submarine to which they were tethered.

It would appear from the article that the commander of the submarine was unaware of the rapidly changing sea conditions from benign to life threatening outside the breakwater and one has to appreciate not only the risk of drowning when being submerged by a large wave but also the force which a wave can apply when it comes crashing down.

This article brings to mind briefly the position that Claimants sometimes face where they have to bring proceedings against a party which is not based on the country where the accident occurs.

By way of example, if I was injured in an accident which occurred involving a US submarine where the fault lay upon the commander of the submarine or those in the US Navy, who would I claim against? Leaving aside any issue as to possible negligence involving a party based in this country, the claim would be the US Defence Department.

The claim would be commenced in the English Courts who have jurisdiction to deal with a claim involving a Defendant who is not resident in the English jurisdiction and leaving aside also any difficulties that you might face as far as seeking appropriate Court Orders for leave to commence and service proceedings, there is no reason why the claim cannot be adequately brought on this basis.

Trying to satisfy a judgment might be more difficult. One would hope that given the strong relationship between our 2 Countries, that the American Government if judgment was obtained against it, would happily pay up.

There is of course no guarantee of this and one might have to instruct US attorneys to try and enforce judgment in the US and try and convince a US Court that it should find the judgment of an English Court to be binding. My point is, that although such a claim would be difficult, there is no reason why we cannot adequately proceed and equally so, if a UK national suffers an injury in the US such as being involved in a road traffic accident, there is no reason why the UK national, despite having returned home, cannot commence Court proceedings to recover compensation.

In such circumstances and in my second scenario above, it would be US attorneys who would have to be instructed to act on behalf of the UK citizen which again is a straightforward procedure.

I acted recently for a German national who was injured whilst employed in England but returned home to Germany soon thereafter. Fortunately, my client was kind enough to attend for appointments with medical experts in this country and the claim which involved a nasty shoulder injury settled relatively soon after the issue of proceedings.

Complex cases therefore are not impossible cases. That is not to say that each and every complex case is likely to succeed and so long as the case has merit, there is no reason why it should not proceed.

Tristan Hallam is a Principal Lawyer in Personal Injury in the London office of Slater and Gordon Lawyers.

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