When someone puts on a military uniform, they give up many of the rights that civilians take for granted. However, this does not mean that servicemembers are completely without recourse if they experience harm or injustice while serving. If you are a member of the military and you believe that you have been wronged, you may be wondering: can you sue the military? The answer is not always clear-cut, but there are some situations in which servicemembers can take legal action. In this article, we will explore the circumstances under which you may be able to sue the military, as well as the process for doing so.
What is the legal landscape of military lawsuits?
Lawsuits against the military can be tricky, as service members fall under different legal systems depending on their circumstances. Active-duty military personnel fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Reservists and National Guard members, on the other hand, are governed by Title 10 of the U.S. Code when they are on active duty. When they are not on active duty, they fall under Title 32. Lastly, veterans are governed by Title 38. Understanding which legal system you fall under is critical in determining your legal options.
Reasons for Suing the Military
There are numerous reasons why individuals may choose to sue the military. Some common reasons include unlawful discrimination, medical malpractice, wrongful death, personal injury, and breach of contract. If a service member feels that the military breached its duty to them, they may have grounds for a lawsuit.
Challenges in suing the military
Suing the military is not a simple process. The military is a government entity, meaning it is protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This doctrine acts as a safeguard against lawsuits filed against the government. However, it is not an absolute rule. There are a few exceptions to sovereign immunity, and individuals may be able to file lawsuits under these exceptions. Additionally, the military has unique procedural rules and regulations, which can be difficult to navigate without proper legal assistance.
The Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity
The first thing to understand when considering a lawsuit against the military is the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This concept holds that the government is immune from being sued without its consent. In practical terms, this means that it is very difficult to sue the military for actions that were taken in the course of duty. However, some exceptions to sovereign immunity may allow you to pursue legal action. These exceptions include:
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)
This law allows individuals to sue the government for personal injury or property damage caused by the negligence of government employees. In the case of the military, this means that you may be able to file a lawsuit if you were injured by the actions of a servicemember who was acting negligently or recklessly.
The Administrative Procedures Act (APA)
This law allows individuals to sue the government for actions that are deemed to be arbitrary or capricious. This means that if you believe that the military has made a decision that was not based on sound reasoning or that was motivated by bias or malice, you may be able to file a lawsuit under the APA.
Types of Legal Claims Against the Military
Assuming that you can overcome the hurdle of sovereign immunity, there are several types of legal claims that you may be able to pursue against the military. These include:
Personal Injury Claims
As noted above, you may be able to file a lawsuit under the FTCA if you were injured by the actions of a servicemember who was acting negligently or recklessly. However, it is important to note that this provision does not allow you to sue the government for injuries that were caused by combat activities. To file a personal injury claim, you will need to establish that the injury occurred outside of combat and that it was caused by someone who had a duty to exercise reasonable care.
The military is subject to laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and other protected characteristics. If you believe that you have been discriminated against while serving in the military, you may be able to file a complaint with the appropriate agency or file a lawsuit under the APA.
Service Contract Claims
If you believe that your rights under your service contract have been violated, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the military. This could include claims related to pay, benefits, or other terms and conditions of your service.
Combat-related injury claims
If you were injured during combat operations, you may be able to pursue a claim under the Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) program, which provides tax-free compensation to service members who were wounded, injured, or became ill as a direct result of combat operations.
Environmental contamination claims
If you were exposed to toxic chemicals or other hazardous materials during your military service and developed a related illness or injury, you may be able to pursue a claim against the government or the responsible parties.
Military Courts vs. Civilian Courts
If you are considering a lawsuit against the military, you will need to decide whether to pursue your claim in a military court or a civilian court. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, so it is important to carefully consider your choices. Some factors to consider include:
Military courts tend to resolve cases more quickly than civilian courts, which can be important if you need a quick resolution to your case.
Each court system has its own set of procedural rules, and these rules can affect the outcome of your case. It is important to carefully consider the rules of each court before deciding where to file your lawsuit.
Judge or Jury
In military court, your case will be decided by a military judge. In civilian court, you may have the option to have your case heard by a jury. Depending on the specifics of your case, one option may be more advantageous than the other.
The Importance of Legal Representation
Regardless of whether you choose to pursue your case in a military court or a civilian court, it is important to have an experienced attorney on your side. The military justice system is complex and can be difficult to navigate without legal assistance. Additionally, the government has significant resources at its disposal, so it is important to have an attorney who can help level the playing field. Some of the things that an attorney can do to help you include:
- Investigate the facts of your case and gather evidence
- Advise you on the strengths and weaknesses of your case
- Guide you through the legal process
- Represent you in court
In conclusion, while it is not always possible to sue the military, there are some circumstances under which servicemembers can pursue legal action. If you believe that you have been wronged while serving in the military, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney who can advise you on your options. With the right representation, you may be able to obtain justice and achieve the outcome that you deserve.