Can the Japanese Fishermen and Their Families Sue the US?

I was wondering about this. And if they can sue, are there limits on what they can get as far as punitive damages?

I believe the Lockerbie airplane victims next of kin are planning to sue Libya. However, that was an intentional terrorist act.

What about those (Kosovo?) civilians who were accidently killed by NATO bombs about 2 years ago? What about the civilians Iraq claims have been killed by NATO bombs, and the many more who have starved due to NATO sanctions?

What about the Americans killed in Pearl Harbor by the Japanese attack in 1941. Were they all military? Even so, are their survivors entitled to reimbursement from Japan?
War is hell.

Uh, George, was there a declaration of war on Japan that I missed? There’s big difference between killing people as a part of war, and killing people from a country we claim to be friends with. I really think that common decency requires that we pay an indemnity and issue an official apology.

Of course there is no war with Japan. The US is not at war with anybody. So why even have the sub patrolling around? Cold war exercises? So the civilians were victims of the cold war.

Was there war against the (Kosovo?) civilians NATO killed? No, NATO was supposed to be protecting them and bombing the Serbs.


The sub was out there because, if you don’t train crews, boats sink, and hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars wind up as a very expensive reef.

The theory that we only practice for war when we’ve got a war (or cold war) is one of the best ways to lose ships, men (and women), and wars. It’s been proven too many times for it to even be seriously entertained. I forget who said it, but the quote runs something like this: If you would have peace, prepare for war

Unfortunately, this boat’s crew was apparently poorly trained, or at the very least, lax. There are standard practices for conducting this particular training (Emergency Surface), as this is one of the more dangerous things a boat can do. Aparently these were either not followed, or, as suggested by some people I know over in Pearl, they waited too long after ‘clearing’ the exercise area to conduct the drill, thus allowing the trawler time to (innocently) get into danger.

BTW: The presence of civilians at the controls is of extremely minor importance to the collision (Japanese outrage not withstanding): Once you hit the ‘Chicken Switches’, you’re on a one-way ride, and t’aint nuthin’ you can do about it. The civvies were part of a ‘Community Relations’ program, almost certainly related to Recruiting.

Most likely, the Japanese gov’t can sue, and so can private Japanese citizens. The Navy has a large legal department specifically detailed for just these kinds of lawsuits, and they (unfortunately) get plenty of practice.

Of course, I could be a tool of the conspiracy…

The Navy will made a reasonable settlement offer, without threat of a lawsuit. But, if they really wanted to- they could claim “soveriegn immunity” by which the federal govt is completely immune to all civil actions.

Well, essentially, anyone can sue anyone for anything. I could sue the SDMB because I don’t like color of the banner at the top of the screen. The question is, could they successfully sue the US and collect untold billions in damages? Who knows - if one of the victims had a cup of McDonald’s coffee in their lap, they could probably get anything they wanted.

Likely to settle. Very likely, indeed.

I believe soveriegn immunity only applies to our own citizens, and even then, only within certain limits. As for damages in the ‘billions of dollars’, there is an international convention that limits damages for loss suffered on the high seas, which applies in this case (>3 miles from shore). This convention was applied to suits brought for the Flight 800 crash. I just can’t remember the award limits, something like $50,000 per fatality, or some such.

I’ll post it when I find it.
As I read this, maximum damamges can’t exceed 375 million Monetary units, total. Each Monitary Unit equals 65.5 mg of .900 fine gold, rendered in the currency of the defendant’s nation (Article 8, section 2, para c; and Article 8, section 3).

Based on today’s gold price of $260.20 per ounce (Troy), that works out to $205 million dollars, US.

Allowing “furriners” to sue the U.S. has got to be one of the more idiotic stunts our so-called representatives have pulled. IMNSHO

Uhh, Tedster, it was an international agreement that allows our citizens to sue other countries, as well.

I have no trouble with our government acting in a responsible manner regarding compensation to people hurt by agents of our government.

We may ALLOW citizens of other countries to sue the US- but the US can still claim “sovereign immunity”. They can’t give away constitutional rights in a treaty. (Note we had this discussion before). See “Gibbons vs United States” for more on sovereign immunity.

Any such treaty is only a “gentlemens agreement” and does not have the force of law in the USA. However, claiming sovereign immunity is not a good way of “making freinds & influencing people”, either. I would guess that the USA would only claim it in case we were sued for something like being: “the Great Satan Imperialist Capitalist Swine who owe the world 100 trillion dollars for exploiting the peoples”.

No “sovereign nation” can MAKE any other nation do anything- short of force of arms. If we were sued- treaty or no- the USA can always go “Nyaa Nyaa”- and what are they gonna do- threaten us? I notice that Congress is of the opinion that we have no absolute LEGAL obligation to pay our ENTIRE UN dues.

But- in any case- the Navy has always made a fair settlement offer in cases like this. They will likely pay for the boat, plus some 50K per death, plus a reasonable sum for the survivors. That would make it “petty cash”.

So if a foreign sub had pulled a similar stunt on a US traweler, I take it you don’t think the American relatives should be able to sue that country’s government either?

I find that the knee-jerk response to inter’l treaties rarely involves thinking through the consequences and advantages. A stress on “don’t think” is probably in order.

Re “Cold War” justification: Is this character aware of the end of the Cold War?

Yes of course you can sue. Doesn’t anyone remember the case in Italy where a couple of hotdog pilots hit a cable and caused a cablecar to plummet to the earth, killing several people? The families of the dead sued.
But there are bigger questions here. When you say “Sue the US” just who do you mean? Almost any case in Federal court is “US vs. Doe” (or whatever) so appeals would be lawsuits against the US. But that isn’t what we’re talking about. Would they sue the US Navy, or the DoD, or some individual entity within the government?
And of course, the biggest question of all: if you DO sue, can you win? It appears the goal of most of these lawsuits are to settle.

It’s been a while since my federal courts class, but I seem to remember that one of the ways around sovereign immunity is to sue the individuals personally - like the captain of the sub. Sovereign immunity protects the US, but it doesn’t extend to personal liability of individual employees or officers.

Of course, most employees and officers who work for the government have indemnity clauses in their contracts of employment, which say that if they are sued for things that they do in the ordinary course of their duties, the government as employer will recompense them. Indirectly, that means the federl government would be potentially on the hook.

One example of this way around soverign immunity is suits brought in federal courts against states. The 11th Amendment restricts the jurisidiction of the federal courts to hear suits against the state governments. But there’s nothing stopping someone, like a prisoner in a state jail, from bringing a federal civil rights suit by suing the warden personally. The state ends up defending it.

That’s how I remember it, anyway. Any of the US lawyers on the Board want to elaborate/correct my version?

Also been a while since my law school days, and you’d be amazed at how seldom a public defender in Virginia got to deal with cases involving sovereign immunity. Ah, the choices we make.

I do, however, seem to recall a federal law that permits the United States to substitute in as the defendent when the defendent is an agent of the government acting in his official capacity. In other words, if you sue Capt. Waddle in his personal capacity, the United States government will substitute in as defendant and proceed from there.

I’ll dig up a cite if anyone cares.

  • Rick

Don’t have time to look it up myself, but the relevant law (apart from the treaty mentioned above, which I know nothing about) is the federal Tort Claims Act. That’s a 50 or 60 year old statute that largely waives the federal government’s defense of sovereign immunity. I do remember that it had specific provisions regarding the actions of military personnel exercising their duties, although I don’t remember wahat those provisions were. If this is still unresolved later today, I’ll see if I can look it up.

My best real-life analogy, though, is the Iranian airliner that the USS Vincennes shot down in the late 80’s. The U.S. did pay compensation in that instance, so just as a matter of policy, I’m sure we’ll do the same in this case.

Thanks for reminding us about that. But what happened to the suit? Did they win? How much? Or was there a settlement?

We can discuss that in Great Debates, although it already has been. I will just say, are you aware of the nuclear arsenal Russia and NATO still point at each other?

Um, no. They don’t. There was in fact, a great foo-faraw over ‘detargeting’ the nukes some years ago. The little noticed fact is that it takes very little effort (entering a target code/coordinates into guidance computers) to re-target them. The detargeting was symbolic, but it’s an important symbol, NTL.

As for the Cold War, Well, I got’s me a piece ‘o expensive paper from Unca’ Sam saying I wuz a Cold Warrior, an’ thanks a bunch, cuz the War’s over an’ we won. Cold War Certificate of Recognition: Worth about nothing, doesn’t even have the weight of a Ribbon, doesn’t go on a DD-214, but it’s official, and it’s from the DoD, so I guess that’s it.