FALLS CHURCH. Va. — A federal judge in Virginia has again rejected an American diplomatic couple’s efforts to toss out a lawsuit in the U.S. filed after the woman fatally injured a British teenager in a car crash and then left the country under diplomatic immunity.
Anne Sacoolas and her husband, Jonathan, were stationed in central England in August 2019 when British authorities say 19-year-old Harry Dunn was struck by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. Anne Sacoolas admitted responsibility for the crash, according to her lawyers.
British authorities pursued criminal charges against Anne Sacoolas but the U.S. invoked diplomatic immunity on her behalf and the couple left the country. They now live in northern Virginia.
Dunn’s family filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria last year.
Last month, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected an argument from the Sacoolases’ lawyers that the case should be tossed out in the U.S. because it should be heard in the United Kingdom instead.
At a virtual hearing Wednesday, the judge rejected a motion to dismiss on other grounds, in a hearing that often delved into application of British law in U.S. courts. The case can now proceed to discovery, and both sides can take depositions of relevant witnesses.
The U.S. government’s refusal to waive diplomatic immunity provoked anger in the United Kingdom. According to the lawsuit, Anne Sacoolas was driving her Volvo SUV on the wrong side of the road near the Croughton base when she struck Dunn. The lawsuit said she’d been living in England for several weeks by then and should have been acclimated to driving on the left side of the road.
The lawsuit alleges that she did not call an ambulance and that it was a passerby who arrived several minutes later who called for help.
Sacoolas’ lawyers have objected to how her actions have been portrayed. In court this week they filed a “notice of correction” to an earlier order from the judge seeking to clarify her conduct. For instance, they acknowledge that she didn’t call for an ambulance but say she flagged down another driver who did, and that she notified the nearby Air Force base, which actually provided the first emergency assistance.
Also, the lawyers acknowledged that she left the country swiftly after the U.S. invoked diplomatic immunity on her behalf but say that’s standard procedure. They say she fully cooperated with authorities while in England, and took a breathalyzer test that showed no alcohol in her system.
The “notice of correction” prompted a rebuke from Ellis.
“You can make your case to the public if you wish but you can’t change my order by filing a notice of correction,” he said. “I don’t think anything I said is incorrect.”