As a civilian, if you’re the victim of medical negligence or malpractice, you have the right to sue the doctors or hospitals you believe are at fault. However, if you’re in the military on active duty, you can’t sue, even for gross negligence or medical malpractice.
Why Can’t Servicemen Sue for Medical Malpractice?
Three little words sum up the reason why members of the military can’t sue for medical malpractice: the Feres Doctrine.
The 1946 Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) gave US citizens the right to sue the federal government in certain situations. However, in 1950, the Supreme Court ruled in Feres v. United States that active duty military personnel can’t sue the government for medical malpractice for illness or injury considered “incidental” to their military service. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the FTCA is known as the Feres Doctrine.
Feres Doctrine Also Shields Malpractice Away from the Battlefield
Although it’s easy to see how lawsuits might get out of hand if the government was held liable for every mistake made during combat or training, the Feres Doctrine has been used as precedent to dismiss medical malpractice lawsuits brought by military members whose injuries weren’t a result of their service – like pregnancy complications.
Here are just a few of the cases which have been dismissed by the Feres Doctrine:
- A Navy Lt. died of blood loss two hours after giving birth at a Washington state Naval hospital because doctors waited too long to order a blood transfusion. Her death would have been easily avoided if the transfusion were ordered earlier.
- A Senior Airman was subjected to amputation of both legs after his aorta was punctured during gallbladder surgery.
- An active duty sailor died at Naval Hospital when doctors botched the chance to give him an antidote to an earlier medication that caused a life-threatening fever.
- A Marine died after a military doctor failed to refer him to an oncologist after discovering a melanoma.
Supreme Court Justices Call for Legislative Change
Law scholars critical of the broad legal interpretation of Feres include current Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Clarence Thomas. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote in his dissent against the Feres Doctrine decision:
“Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.”
If you believe you or a loved one have a medical malpractice case, talk to our lawyers. You may be entitled to compensation for medical care, lost wages, and more.