If things go wrong: to parents
If you end up in a legal case
There is likely a limited period of time during which you may file a legal claim. This is called a statute of limitations. The general intention of such a statute is that disputes be resolved within a “reasonable” period of time. However, what is reasonable for business is quite different than what is reasonable for bereaved families.
In most states, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is two or three years. This is a time when you may just be coming out of shock and numbness and into the rest of your life.
To the extent that you’ve examined your child’s waiver and adapted it in advance, some issues may be mitigated. If not, the following paragraphs describe common hurdles.
If you have filed a case within your state’s statute of limitations, the next legal technicality will be jurisdiction, that is, where the case will be heard.
There are theoretically multiple possible jurisdictions, including: your child’s home state; your child’s school state (if different from his home state); the state where the study abroad program is headquartered; the SOR’s home state (if they are being named in the lawsuit); and, the country in which your child died.
Increasingly study abroad programs predetermine jurisdiction in their waiver. Since the waiver is designed to protect the study abroad program, their corporate home state will likely be designated as legal venue.
Once the study abroad program controls jurisdiction, state laws can be invoked, even if your child’s case has been moved to federal court. These state laws often reflect years of professional relationships and lobbying. Some states have a definition of negligence that is very narrow, and it will be nearly impossible for a bereaved family to prevail.
Together, these legal strategies—statute of limitations, waivers, jurisdiction, and state laws—keep most study abroad lawsuits from getting to trial.