Virgin Islands

quick facts

Although the Virgin Islands, an unincorporated territory of the United States, are “not sovereign, in the true sense of that term[,]” Congress has nonetheless granted the territory “attributes of autonomy similar to those of a sovereign government or a state.” 1 The Virgin Islands government therefore enjoys sovereign immunity unless it consents to be sued.

Virgin Islands law creates a system whereby government liability is severely limited by damages limits, but public employees are broadly liable for their own torts. The Virgin Islands Tort Claims Act (“VITCA”) waives sovereign immunity for certain claims, providing liability “with respect to injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee of the Government of the United States Virgin Islands while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the Government of the United States Virgin Islands, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 2 However, this liability is severely restricted by a damages cap: “[n]o judgment shall be awarded against the Government of the United States Virgin Islands in excess of $25,000.” 3 The government is also not liable in cases where an employee is grossly negligent. 4

The Virgin Islands will pay judgments against employees acting within the scope of employment up to $100,000, provided that the employee “acted reasonably.” 5 Government employees enjoy immunity for negligence claims for acts or omissions committed during the execution of discretionary functions. 6 Apart from the indemnification provision and discretionary-function immunity, government employees generally may be liable for their own torts. 7