A U.S. district court has ruled that Harry Dunn’s family can bring their civil claim for alleged wrongful death against Anne Sacoolas in the United States.
The U.S. diplomat’s wife had applied to have the claim dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, saying it was a matter that should be heard in a UK court.
U.S. District Court of Virginia Judge Thomas Ellis denied Sacoolas’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the claim could proceed.
In the Feb. 17 ruling, he said, “While it is commendable that Defendant Anne Sacoolas admits that she was negligent and that her negligence caused Harry Dunn’s death, this does not equate acceptance of responsibility.
“Full acceptance of responsibility entails facing those harmed by her negligence and taking responsibility for her acts where they occurred, in the United Kingdom.”
According to the BBC, her legal team had said she was concerned that she would not “receive fair treatment” if she returned to the UK.
In a landmark ruling in the US District Court in Virginia, Judge Ellis has decided to allow #HarryDunn’s parents claim for wrongful death against Mr and Mrs Sacoolas to proceed there. A verdict for common sense and there are no more important words in the judgment than these 👇🏻 pic.twitter.com/b0lho8hts3
— Radd Seiger (@RaddSeiger) February 16, 2021
Sacoolas, 43, was allegedly driving on the wrong side of the road in her SUV in August 2019 when she collided with 19-year-old Harry Dunn on his motorcycle near RAF Croughton in Northhamptonshire, where her husband was working.
Three weeks later, Sacoolas and her husband left the UK to return to the United States, claiming diplomatic immunity. She was later charged with death by dangerous driving, but her lawyer said she would not return voluntarily to face trial.
An extradition request by the UK government was turned down by the United States. After the failed extradition attempt, the Dunn family filed a lawsuit in Virginia for damages.
During the dismissal hearing on Feb. 3, it was discovered that Sacoolas, like her husband, was also possibly working for U.S. intelligence services. If that had been known at the time, her diplomatic immunity may have been waived.
When Sacoolas applied to dismiss the U.S. claim, she signed a declaration that appeared to waive her diplomatic immunity, according to NPR. But the statement seems to use the wrong date.
“I hereby stipulate that I do not contend a civil claim asserted against me in England arising from the August 27, 2017, motor vehicle accident is barred by diplomatic immunity,” the statement reads.
Following the ruling, Sacoolas’s lawyers released a statement to the Press Association, saying that Sacoolas was open to “mediation” with the Dunn family.
“As Anne has said repeatedly, she is devastated by this tragic accident and would do anything she could to bring Harry back,” the statement reads.
“She has continuously expressed her deepest condolences to the family, and would very much like to find a path forward and to bring the family a measure of peace and closure.”
The lawyers noted that “The ruling has no impact or bearing on Anne Sacoolas’s diplomatic immunity.”
Dunn family spokesman Radd Seiger described the ruling in a tweet as a “verdict for common sense.”
Dunn’s mother Charlotte Charles told the Press Association, “We are pleased and relieved at the court’s decision. We only took this step as a last resort.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had declared his support for the Dunn family in a letter submitted to the court, which the judge took into account in his ruling.
“We’ve always said the death of Harry Dunn was a tragedy and we want justice for that, which is why I wrote a letter in support of those civil law proceedings,” Raab told the BBC “Breakfast” programme on Feb. 17.
Raab also said the government would be contributing to the Dunn family’s accommodation costs in the United States.
A March 3 court hearing has been set for to hear further motions of dismissal.