February 16, 2021

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Harry Dunn, who police say died after being hit by a vehicle driven by the wife of a U.S. diplomat, will proceed in Virginia, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. The driver, Anne Sacoolas, had asked the judge to dismiss the U.S. case to compel Dunn's family to pursue the lawsuit in U.K. courts.

Sacoolas has admitted driving on the wrong side of the road when her SUV struck Dunn, who was 19. But she has also claimed diplomatic immunity in Dunn's death.

Dunn's family filed the lawsuit against Sacoolas and her husband, Jonathan, in September, seeking a jury trial. They accuse Anne Sacoolas not only of causing Harry Dunn's death, but also of failing to call for the police or an ambulance. They also say she fled to the U.S. less than a month after the incident, despite promising to cooperate with the British police investigation — an inquiry that later resulted in a criminal charge.

Because Sacoolas has refused to return to the U.K. for either depositions or a trial, and the U.S. has refused a request to extradite her, the Dunns say their only option was to file the lawsuit in Virginia.

In response, the Sacoolases asked a federal court to dismiss the case, saying the matter should be resolved in the U.K. instead. And the couple say that because they view the case as centering on civil damages related to a wrongful death, their presence would not be required in a British court.

Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied the Sacoolases' motion to dismiss the case in Virginia, citing "an obvious inconsistency" in the defendants' position regarding the venue and the circumstances. He also said there could well be a need for Anne Sacoolas to testify in court, and he noted that it's not clear how she would do that if the lawsuit is filed in the U.K. instead of in the U.S.

The judge concluded, "the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice are best served by retaining jurisdiction in this case in the Eastern District of Virginia."

The tragic collision occurred on Aug. 27, 2019, as Anne Sacoolas was leaving an air force base used by the U.S. military near Croughton, in Northamptonshire, England. She was driving a British-model Volvo SUV, with the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle. Her SUV struck Dunn head-on, according to court records. At the time, she had been living in the U.K. for several weeks.

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