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Can I Be Sued in Another Country?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 06, 2015 9:56 AM

Maybe you got into a fender bender abroad. Maybe you blogged about a foreign national and they're not happy with what you wrote. Maybe an ex is filing for divorce from another country.

Whatever the case may be, it is possible to be sued in a foreign country. So what does that mean for you?

Out of (Foreign) State, Out of Mind?

First off, other countries have court systems that, while not exactly like ours, allow citizens to bring lawsuits against foreign citizens or even foreign countries. The jurisdictional rules of foreign courts may differ from our own, but as a general principle you are not guaranteed immunity just because you aren't a citizen of that country.

Foreign courts will probably have similar notice requirements, meaning you can't be sued in secret. You should get some formal notice that a lawsuit has been filed and the grounds of the lawsuit. There should also be some instructions on how to reply to the complaint.

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If you've been notified of a lawsuit filed against you in another country, you may be thinking, "I can ignore this, and they'll never be able to get my money from overseas." That would be wrong.

While there is no federal law regarding enforcement of foreign legal judgments, most states, including California, Montana, and New York, have adopted the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. This Act means that state courts will honor legal judgments made in other countries. There may be some filing hurdles for whoever won the judgment before it is enforceable, but once it is recognized by U.S. courts, it will be legally binding.

Not All Judgments

There are exceptions to this rule. While most foreign judgments are enforceable in the U.S., a judgment may be unenforceable if:

  • The foreign court lacked personal or subject jurisdiction;
  • The defendant did not receive proper notice of the proceedings;
  • The judgment was the result of fraud; or
  • The legal proceedings lacked impartiality or due process of law.

Additionally, American libel laws are generally less strict than other countries, so any suit for libel, slander, or defamation must adhere to our First Amendment protections in order to avoid libel tourism.

If you've been sued in another country, you can't just ignore the lawsuit. Talking with an experienced international law attorney could help.

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