Service members and their families who volunteer their time to our country often make great sacrifices. In return, the government offers lifelong benefits to retirees and loved ones who make that commitment. For the family of a retired 28-year Army veteran in South Carolina, the balance between benefit and risk became all too real in October 2015.
Historic flooding that fall caused two deaths and $20 million in property damage to the Ft. Jackson, S.C. area, the Army’s largest basic combat training installation. The death of the retired 28-year veteran is now part of a premises liability and personal injury lawsuit filed by his loved ones.
A claim against the government can be even harder to prove
In the suit, his family argues that the Army did not address the risk of failure of a 76-year old dam that confined a manmade lake on the post. Severe flooding caused the dam to break, adding to the already treacherous conditions. As the elderly man returned to the Ft. Jackson area after dropping his off his wife at the airport, his car was swept away. The lawsuit falls under premises liability, a category of personal injury that deals with the upkeep of property.
When a person enters a building or land area, they have a reasonable expectation that they will not be hurt. Establishing a level of harm might be easier when a person takes a suit against a private venue. However, this case involves a private party taking on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the bureaucracy of which can add more layers to a case.
Flood of questions
Four dams failed during the flooding period at Ft. Jackson. Establishing a history of alleged negligence by the Army could be difficult for the family and their lawyers to prove. Was the broken dam the cause of the retired service member’s death, or was it an “act of God” caused by the flooding?
Answering questions related to premises liability, negligence and harm will be difficult to answer. But what is even harder to deal with is the unexpected loss of a loved one. Often the emotional burden we carry is tougher than the financial loss of income and benefits. Although service members are known for deploying overseas, it is often the personal battles on the home front that matter most.