Ask a JAG Jan 10,2013

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Q: During my move, the movers damaged a wall inside my apartment. They won’t respond to me, and the Claims Office says it’s not a legitimate claim against the U.S. Government. What can I do?

A: This is a difficult situation because your landlord will hold you responsible for the damage under the terms of your lease.  
The Claims Office denied this claim against the government because it is specifically prohibited in claims regulations. Under the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity, you can file claims against the federal government only if it has authorized that type of claim.  Congress authorized certain claims against the government in the Personnel Claims Act, which provides limited protection to Soldiers and Defense Department civilians for loss or damage to personal property that occurs incident to service or employment. The PCA provides for gratuitous payment, but does not waive sovereign immunity or make the government an insurer of personal property.  Unfortunately, the PCA and its implementing regulations specifically exclude damage to real property, like the wall in your apartment.
If you’ve preserved enough evidence, the Legal Assistance Office can probably help you recover from the movers. Our German attorney can draft a letter to the movers demanding payment for the damage. If the movers fail to respond, he will ordinarily write a second letter, warning the company that it may lose U.S. business and be sued if it doesn’t pay for the damage. If this fails, you can file an action in German court. The Legal Assistance Program, as governed by Army Regulation 27-3, does not provide in-court representation, so you will have to hire an attorney on the economy.
As with any legal case, your chance of success will depend heavily on how well you have collected and preserved important evidence. Therefore, you should immediately notify the movers and photograph the damage. The movers need your signature on their forms, so you should note the damage on any form you sign. Ideally, you will have taken pictures at move-in to prove that the damage was not there before. Finally, keep all your correspondence with the moving company and do anything else you think will help prove your case.  
Make sure to file a formal complaint with the transportation office. Your feedback will help the U.S. government identify moving companies that engage in unfair business practices and ensure other service members won’t have to deal with them

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.