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 The "Alien Tort Statute"

A non-citizen of the United States may file a civil tort lawsuit in a federal court according to the Alien Tort Statute, a federal law of the United States. It is typically quite difficult for non-citizens to file a lawsuit in a U.S. court. The Alien Tort Statute, however, essentially permits an alien to use the federal court system in the United States for specific tort breaches.

The statute stipulates that the tort must involve a breach of international law or a treaty with the United States. If the defendant is formally located in the United States or has substantial holdings and assets there, the victims of such torts would typically file a claim under this legislation. Before a court can hear a case brought under the Alien Tort Statute, the filing party must frequently meet a number of qualifying requirements.

The “Alien Tort Claims Act” is another name for the Alien Tort Statute (ATCA).

What is a Tort?

When one party wrongs or damages another party, this is referred to as a tort. The harm may have been caused intentionally, negligently (due to a breach of duty), or due to a breach of strict liability laws. Typical tort claims include the following:

The word “tort” comes from a Latin word that means to twist or deform. Therefore, even if they may involve various forms of injuries, tort lawsuits frequently involve physical harm to the plaintiff (such as economic loss). Tort law’s primary goal is to compensate victims for losses related to their injuries. Negligence-based tort litigation is the most prevalent type.

What Sorts of Infractions Are Covered by the Alien Tort Statute?

In general, major offenses, including infringement of human rights, are covered by the Alien Tort Statute. The law often applies to individuals or government bodies operating on behalf of an official foreign government. For instance, the Alien Tort Statute may be invoked in cases of kidnapping or torture carried out by a foreign authority.

As the Immigrant Tort Statute is typically only applicable in the most severe instances, it has historically been rather challenging for an alien to launch a lawsuit under it. However, the statute has recently been the subject of various legal battles in which business executives have been accused of violating human rights while operating in other nations.

Therefore, if a worker was injured abroad by a U.S. company, they might be allowed to file a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court if they could prove that there had been a violation of international law.

What Sorts of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Tort Claim?

As was previously stated, the primary objective of tort laws is to compensate the victim for losses brought on by the defendant. In most tort cases, a monetary award determined by the severity of the plaintiff’s injury serves as the proper remedy. The monetary losses could be in the form of missed wages, medical bills, and costs for diminished capacities (such as the loss of a physiological function). But the losses must be able to be linked back to the harm.

An injunction is yet another sort of remedy that is usually connected to tort claims. An injunction is a type of court order that tells the plaintiff to stop acting in a certain way or to carry out a specific task. When monetary damages alone cannot properly compensate the plaintiff for their losses, injunctions are sometimes used. They are also typical in cases of the nuisance variety when the plaintiff suffers losses due to the defendant’s repeated activities.

Are There Any Available Defenses in a Tort Case?

Consent is one of the more prevalent defenses in a tort case. In other words, if the victim knowingly approves of the defendant’s actions, they will not be entitled to compensation for their losses.

Self-defense is yet another frequent defense in a tort cause of action. For instance, someone might hurt someone else in self-defense. They might have a strong defense if they can demonstrate that they were attacked first and did not start the fight.

Numerous additional defenses could be used in a tort case. You should speak with an attorney if you have any questions about the various tort defenses.

How Can Negligence Be Established?

Negligence must be proven in four key areas to receive compensation for injuries.These components are:

  • Damages
  • Duty
  • Breach
  • Causation

Even if all four are demonstrated, and negligence is proven, a defense may still reduce the amount the defending party must pay.

A duty is an obligation one person has toward another. People going about their daily lives bear the responsibility of “reasonable care” in general. “Reasonable care” is the level of caution that a normal, responsible individual would exercise in the same circumstance.

As an illustration, if someone is driving in a downpour, they would be using “reasonable care” by slowing down and turning on their headlights to improve visibility. If someone were driving forty miles per hour over the speed limit, they would not be using “due care.”

When someone’s level of care is not as high as what is needed by their responsibility, there has been a breach. In the aforementioned instance, the driver going forty miles per hour in a downpour violated their responsibility to use reasonable care.

The injury must result from a breach of a duty. The legal standard for determining causation is a little more complicated than that, but the fundamental inquiry is whether the harm would have happened but for the conduct of one party.

There must have been some kind of harm, in general. There are many different types of injuries, including lost wages, emotional stress, and property damage.

Each of the aforementioned elements must be present to prove that the other person was negligent. Negligence cannot be established if any of the conditions above are not met.


The First Congress passed the ATS law in 1789, and George Washington officially signed it into effect. It only has one sentence:

“Any civil action by an immigrant for a tort merely, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States, will have original jurisdiction in the district courts.”

The First Congress intended to ensure that litigation involving international law and concerns were heard in federal courts by qualified judges rather than state courts, resulting in contradictory and confusing decisions. This was necessary to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the new United States upheld international law and fulfilled its legal duties.

Violations of Human Rights Under the ATS

Despite being largely disregarded for two centuries, the act gained new significance as a weapon for victims of human rights violations to pursue justice in the 1980s. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the ATS may be utilized to bring claims for serious human rights abuses, including torture, in the landmark decision of Filártiga v. Pena-Irala. The “law of nations” is violated by these wrongdoings.

In the subsequent case of Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain in 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision. The Court made it plain that as long as the international law norm is “specific, universal, and compulsory,” the ATS enables lawsuits for violations of international law as it has evolved over the previous two centuries, including the emergence of international human rights law.

Although the Court determined that the claims of arbitrary detention in the Sosa case could not proceed under the ATS, the Court made it plain that other human rights cases might proceed; hence the ruling was seen as a significant victory for the human rights movement.

Federal courts have permitted ATS claims for various violations of human rights, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, summary execution, torture, slavery, war crimes, and state-sponsored sexual violence, since Filartiga and Sosa.

Do I Require Legal Counsel If I Have an Alien Tort Statute Claim?

For some offenses, the Alien Tort Statute or Alien Tort Claims Act can offer a path to redress. If you have a claim under the ATCA, you should contact a tort lawyer. Your lawyer can inform you of your legal rights in the United States and help you identify potential remedies.

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