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Norfolk, Virginia houses the largest naval facility

not just in the United States, but in the world. There are huge numbers of military personnel in our city and the large number of people who commute every day to the Norfolk Naval Base from surrounding cities like Virginia Beach. This results in a lot of traffic coming to and from the Naval Base. That means that a high percentage of the car crashes in our community are going to involve either a Navy person who is the at-fault driver or the victim of the accident.

Several different issues arise when there are military persons involved in a car accident with injuries. For example, if the vehicle that was at fault was operated by a U.S. government employee or service member on duty, then the claim is typically not against the individual, but against the United States Government. This involves the Federal Tort Claims Act which is the federal statute that acts as a limited waiver of sovereign immunity – although it only applies in certain circumstances. Sovereign immunity has its roots in English and old common law doctrine that can be summed up as "The King can do no wrong." In the United States, the government and thereby the United States Navy can claim sovereign immunity as a defense. There are a lot of complications about claims involving the United States government, including the way that the claim has to be submitted to the government and what court you go to. You cannot get a jury in a Federal Tort Claims Act case.

When on-duty military personnel are both at-fault and the ones hurt, the injured person may be barred from recovery because of the case of Feres v. United States, in which the Supreme Court set out what is known as the Feres Doctrine. The doctrine basically says that the United States is not liable under the Federal Torts Claims Act when a member of the armed services is injured through the negligence of another service member when on active duty. The Feres doctrine effectively bars service members from successfully collecting damages for personal injuries against the United States sustained while they were performing their duties.

On the other hand, if the at-fault driver in an accident is a civilian, and a Navy person is injured in the accident, a case can go forward. The medical treatment received by that injured sailor or officer will likely occur at military facilities, like the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. These kind of medical facilities do not charge service members for the care they receive. Therefore, an attorney handling such a case has to get a statement of value from the government to prove what was the estimated value of the military’s medical care, and pay the government back out of the insurance settlement or verdict. The injured person also gets to claim pain and suffering damages.

Overall, there are many issues that can arise when a Navy service person is involved in an accident in our town. It is best to speak with someone that is familiar with these issues. The roads into the Naval Station, I-564, Hampton Boulevard, and Taussig Boulevard are well known to me as I live in the Larchmont neighborhood and drive these roads each day.

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