Virginia Court Sides With Family Of Teen Killed In Road Incident Involving Diplomat's Wife
A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of 19-year-old Harry Dunn will proceed. The teen died after he was struck by a vehicle driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a U.S. diplomat.
The fatal incident happened on August 27, 2019, when the 19-year-old was driving his motorcycle through the village of Croughton, England. Anne Sacoolas, whose husband was a diplomat working in the U.K., was driving on the wrong side of the road when she struck the teen head-on with an SUV that was registered to her husband. Dunn was taken to the nearby hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Roughly three weeks after the incident, both Sacoolas and her husband fled to the U.S. The couple initially cooperated with authorities, and Sacoolas even admitted that she was at fault after driving on the wrong side of the road. However, after the couple left the U.K., Sacoolas’ wife cited diplomatic immunity in the incident. Under diplomatic immunity, foreign officials are not subject to the laws of the host country.
Shortly after Sacoolas returned to the U.S., British authorities charged her with the death of the teen by dangerous driving. After British officials sent an extradition request to the United States government, the U.S. formally turned down the request. The State Department explained it “would render the invocation of diplomatic immunity a practical nullity and would set an extraordinarily troubling precedent.”
During Trump's presidency, Harry Dunn's parents Tim Dunn and Charlotte Charles were invited to the White House to meet with the president. There, they learned that the woman who had killed their son was in a separate room waiting to meet the Dunns. The Dunns declined to meet with her.
In 2020, the Dunn family filed a civil lawsuit against Sacoolas in a United States court. However, Sacoolas tried to get the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that it would be “more convenient” for the hearing to take place in the U.K. A judge for the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia shot down Sacoolas’ claims and called them inconsistent. Judge T.S. Ellis II stated in his order, “While defendants here argue that the case should be dismissed so that the case may be brought in the “more convenient” forum of the United Kingdom, at the same time Defendant Anne Sacoolas has declared that she will not return to the United Kingdom to face criminal prosecution.”
Diplomatic immunity specialist lawyers Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens have advised the Dunn family that Sacoolas should not qualify for diplomatic immunity because the protection to Sacoolas no longer applied once she left the host country. Additionally, the charges could be tried in U.S. courts as well.
The incident, which prompted national outrage, has also been the catalyst for legislative change. Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Dominic Raab, shared in a statement, “I had instructed my officials to discuss with the United States a revision of the immunity arrangements at the Croughton Annex for US personnel and their families, following the road collision of 27 August 2019 in which Harry Dunn was killed.”
The new legislation takes away the ambiguity of diplomatic immunity and will now allow family members of diplomats to be criminally charged for events that happened in a host country.