On August 20, 2013, in Richardson v. Attorney General of the British Virgin Islands, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117763 (D.V.I. Aug. 20, 2013), the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands found the British Virgin Islands (“BVI”) subject to suit pursuant to the tortious act exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The Richardson plaintiffs were on a power boat cruising in the territorial waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands when a BVI customs officer stopped the Richardsons’ boat, claiming they were in BVI waters. The customs officer arrested the Richardsons and ordered them to disembark and enter his BVI-owned vessel. The Richardsons claim that, when the customs officer thereafter operated their boat to take them to the BVI customs office, he did so negligently, causing a crash and injuries.
Initially, BVI did not appear in the action. Nonetheless, the court held a bench trial, and held that the alleged conduct, which took place within U.S. waters, satisfied the criteria of the tortious act exception to sovereign immunity because the customs officer caused injury in the United States while acting in the scope of his employment on behalf of the BVI government. The court also found, however, that BVI had not been served properly with process. In September 2013, the plaintiffs effected service, and on November 4, 2013, the Attorney General of the BVI filed an answer to the complaint pro se. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
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