International Law Lawsuit

An international law lawsuit involves defendants and plaintiffs in different countries. The jurisdiction may be in the U.S. or in a foreign country, where the laws of that country or international laws apply. These lawsuits may involve criminal or civil issues.

What is an International Law Lawsuit?

A lawsuit that involves parties in more than one country is international. It might be a case that involves the laws of a foreign country, for example, if you suffered injuries from negligence on vacation. Or, the case may involve international laws with respect to trade, human rights, or the environment.

Types of International Law Lawsuits

The types of lawsuits that take place internationally aren’t that different from those filed within a country. Those that involve international laws specifically include cases over human rights, humanitarian law, and suits between nations and international organizations.

Individuals and businesses may also be involved in international lawsuits. These are often similar to domestic lawsuits:

  • Lawsuits over contract disputes or business practices
  • Personal injury lawsuits and other civil cases
  • Criminal lawsuits
  • Class action lawsuits

The U.S. Supreme Court recently set a precedent for allowing individuals to sue foreign organizations for damages. It began with Jam v. International Finance Corporation (IFC). A group of farmers and fishermen in India started a class action against the IFC for damages resulting from a power plant. The IFC had funded the plant and was therefore considered liable for the harm a disaster at the plant caused to fisheries and farmland.[1]

Since 1945, foreign organizations like the IFC were immune from such lawsuits. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined that there were exceptions that that immunity. This sets a precedent for suing other foreign organizations for damages.

When Do I Need to File an International Lawsuit?

Most people are never involved in these lawsuits, but you may have a case to start or join an international lawsuit in certain situations:

  • You do business with companies in other countries and have contract or real estate disputes.
  • You do business in another country, and a foreign government causes damages to your business or seizes your assets.
  • An individual or company causes you damages in another country, such as in a personal injury case or medical malpractice.
  • You have been a victim of a crime in another country and suffered damages as a result.
  • You are seeking asylum in another country or have a family member being denied asylum in the U.S.

How an International Lawsuit Differs from a Domestic Lawsuit

If you need to take legal action against a company or individual in another country, the basic steps are similar to those used in the U.S. You must notify the defendants and court, investigate and gather evidence, and go to trial if you cannot negotiate a settlement.

Within this basic framework, there are unique challenges and differences in an international lawsuit:

  1. Service of Process
    Any lawsuit begins with an official complaint, the service of process, which notifies the defendants and the courts of the lawsuit and the allegations. The form this takes varies by country. Many countries signed the Hague Service Convention in 1965 for a more uniform process, but others, like Israel, have their own service of process you must follow.
  2. Discovery and Evidence
    Discovery begins after the service of process notifies all relevant parties. This is when your lawyer will investigate and gather evidence, which is complicated by the need to get evidence from a foreign country. This means issuing a Letter of Request to the Hague Evidence Convention. If discovery is not done according to the country’s laws, the evidence may be dismissed.
  3. Trial
    If your lawyer cannot resolve your dispute or civil lawsuit in negotiations with the defendants, you can go to trial. In some situations, you may be able to conduct the trial in a U.S. court, but in others, you must stay in the foreign court system. Trials in foreign courts are similar to those in the U.S. Interpreters are usually involved, which increases the costs of trials.
  4. Recognition of judgments
    The U.S. may not recognize the outcome of a lawsuit in a foreign court. The U.S. may claim non-recognition in specific circumstances, for instance, if the proceedings were impartial or if there are issues of jurisdiction.

When and How Do I File an International Law Lawsuit?

The rules and procedures for filing a lawsuit in another country or under international law vary significantly. You need an experienced international law lawyer to tell you if you have a case, and if so, what to do next.

Depending on the case and the jurisdiction, the statute of limitations will vary. The procedures are variable as well, although all cases begin with some type of service of process. If you believe you have an international class action to join, your lawyer can help you get started.

International lawsuits can be very complicated. They don’t impact many people in the U.S. If you do business outside the country or travel abroad, you may be more likely to become part of a lawsuit. If that happens, rely on an experienced lawyer who has handled international cases.

  1. Supreme Court of the United States. (2018). Jam et al., v. International Finance Corp.
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