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This law prevents members of the military from getting justice after medical malpractice

More than 1.4 million people serve our country in various branches of the armed forces. Anyone who joins the military gives up certain rights. One of these rights is the ability to sue the government for injuries arising out of military service. This law, known as the Feres doctrine, protects the government from lawsuits if soldiers or sailors are injured in combat or in training. Unfortunately, the military and some courts have applied this law to acts of medical malpractice. As a result, when members of the military are injured or killed due to acts of medical malpractice, they cannot bring a lawsuit against the government.

Instead, active-duty servicemembers who are harmed by medical malpractice can only bring cases in administrative forums. According to the Military Times article titled Tragedy and injustice: The heartbreaking truth about military medical malpractice, servicemembers brought 2,111 administrative cases against hospitals in the Army, Navy and Air Force from 2010 to 2015. Per this article, the following cases were settled or dismissed under the Feres doctrine.

  • A member of the Air Force whose legs were amputated after surgeons punctured his aorta during a gallbladder operation
  • A sailor who died after doctors gave him the wrong medication
  • A Marine who died after he was diagnosed with skin cancer, but the doctor failed to tell him or provide treatment

Recently, a federal appeals court stated that the Feres doctrine even applied to the unborn children of servicemembers. On March 16, 2009, Heather Ortiz, a captain in the Air Force, went into labor. The hospital gave her a medication she was allergic to, even though her medical records indicated she was allergic to it. To counteract this reaction, they gave Ms. Ortiz Benadryl, which caused her blood pressure to drop precipitously. As a result, her unborn child sustained brain and nerve injuries.

In the family's lawsuit against the military hospital, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's ruling that the Feres doctrine applied to the case. While the government has decided to settle the case, many believe it is doing so in order to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning the Feres Doctrine altogether.

Sadly, it may be some time before members of the military receive the same access to justice in medical malpractice claims. If you or someone you love has been injured by an act of medical negligence, the lawyer you choose matters. For years, people across Washington D.C., and beyond have placed their trust in Fay Kaplan Law, P.A.

Source: Tragedy and injustice: The heartbreaking truth about military medical malpractice, by Patricia Kime, Military Times, July 10, 2016

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