Every year, more than 90 million Americans travel outside the US for work or leisure. However, the last thing you would expect to happen when you’re in a foreign country is to get kidnapped. That’s anyone’s worst nightmare.
Although kidnapping statistics held by the US government and private security companies are not usually released publicly, we estimate that number could be anywhere in the realm of 200-300.
In 2019, The US State Department added a new “K” indicator to the travel advisories it issues, denoting countries with an unprecedented risk of kidnapping or hostage-taking. So, if you’re a US citizen who works in any of those countries, that’s something you need to be wary of.
A frequently asked question we get from Americans working overseas is – Can I sue my employer if I get kidnapped? The answer to this question may surprise you. Here’s everything you need to know.
Piracy in Maritime Law
First, we’ll look at what happens if you’re kidnapped by pirates. But, to do this, you need to understand the various provisions of a 100-year-old maritime law known as the Jones Act.
The Jones Act, or the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 as it is also called, is a piece of federal legislation designed to protect American workers injured at sea. It allows sailors who suffer injuries or become sick in their line of work to pursue compensation from their employers.
If the injuries resulted from the negligent acts of the employer or coworker, the injured party has the right to sue for damages. Under the Act, ship owners can also be held liable if the accident occurs as a result of the unsafe condition of the vessel.
Now, you might be wondering what the Jones Act has to do with maritime piracy. Pirates are nothing like the charming, rum-loving antiheroes you envision. They are fearsome villains armed to the teeth with sophisticated weapons that they’re not afraid to use.
So, as a maritime employee, your line of work is inherently dangerous due to the risk posed by these pirates. Suppose you get injured in a pirate attack while performing your duties or survive a pirate kidnapping incident. In that case, you’re protected under various maritime laws, including international admiralty laws and the Jones Act.
So, you can sue your employer for damages depending, of course, on the nature of the circumstances leading up to the incident. The injuries you may incur aren’t just physical. You might also suffer psychological trauma, which is also grounds for an emotional distress lawsuit.
The Kidnapping of Oil Workers
If you work at an offshore oil rig, you are also protected by the provisions of the Jones Act. So, you can sue your employer if you end up getting kidnapped and held for ransom.
You would have to show that the company acted negligently by not living up to its duty of care to guarantee your safety in a region that’s known to grapple with security issues.
If you’re working in a foreign country and end up getting kidnapped by terrorists who then demand a ransom for your release, what is your employer’s role in the whole saga? Who is responsible for securing your release? And can you sue your employer for the injuries you suffer in the whole ordeal?
When you’re working in a high-risk environment, the threat of kidnapping is very real – a fact that your employer is well aware of. In such scenarios, companies usually have kidnap and ransom insurance for employees working overseas to cover such an eventuality. Your employer would also be responsible for meeting the medical expenses for any injuries you suffer.
If you feel that your employer acted negligently by intentionally sending you to work in a high-risk region without taking the appropriate measures to guarantee your safety, you can sue them for the injuries and the emotional distress you suffered at the hands of your captors.
Kidnap for Ransom
Sometimes, not all cases of kidnapping are terrorist-related. Case in point: The American woman kidnapped in Africa while on safari in Uganda.
In the incident, the kidnappers made a ransom demand of $500,000. The tour company that had organized the excursion paid an undisclosed amount of money in ransom, subsequently securing the 35-year-old woman’s release.
Given the fact that she was touring the country out of her own volition, her employer is under no obligation to ensure her safety and security when traveling to a high-risk country for non-official purposes.
So, if you travel for leisure to a country that’s on the State Department’s travel advisory list, and you end up getting kidnapped and held for ransom, you have no legal grounds to sue your employer.
Kidnapping Survival Guide
Getting kidnapped is, no doubt, a terrifying experience. But, keep in mind that your chances of surviving the incident are high. After all, your value to your captors is contingent on keeping you alive.
Here’s what to do if kidnapped overseas to enhance your chances of being released alive.
- A kidnapping can occur anywhere. Your best chance of escape is at the beginning. So, cause as much commotion as you can to draw attention to yourself and make others aware of the abduction. That way, they can alert the authorities.
- Once you’ve been forced into a vehicle, don’t struggle. Try your best to remain calm and try as much as possible to visualize the route being taken if you’ve been blindfolded. Pay attention to any street noise or smells, and monitor the amount of time taken between stops.
- If you work in a high-risk area, it’s always a good idea to have a discreet GPS tracker on you at all times. It’ll make it easier for your employer to liaise with the authorities to get to your location.
- Whatever you do, do not antagonize your captors. Focus on staying alive. Comply with all orders and instructions you’re given. If you’re interrogated, keep your responses short. Don’t divulge unnecessary details.
- Maintain your physical and mental strength while in captivity. Eat whatever food you’re given and use flexing and isometric exercises to keep your muscles toned if your movement is extremely restricted.
Get What You Deserve
If you get kidnapped while performing your duties, you can sue your employer for the physical and emotional injuries you incur during the ordeal. A competent lawyer can help you prove that your employer neglected their duty of care towards you and pursue damages on your behalf.
If you have any legal queries, chat online with a Laws101.com attorney today.