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Should The Military Be Protected From Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

Did you know that military hospitals and health professionals are shielded from medical malpractice lawsuits? In other words, if you or a loved one suffered from a serious medical mistake at a military hospital, you could not get justice or compensation for your injuries? It’s true. Due to a sixty-year-old Supreme Court decision known as the Feres Doctrine, military hospitals are immune to medical malpractice liability.

The Feres Doctrine states that service men and women are barred from collecting damages from the United States Government for personal injuries sustained while performing duties. While the doctrine has been fought a number of times over the years, veterans and their advocates have failed to change the law.

Most recently, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of 25-year-old Air Force staff sergeant, Dean Patrick Witt, a serviceman who died during a routine appendectomy at a military hospital after a nurse inserted a tube down the wrong part of his throat. Even though his death was a clear-cut medical error, the Feres Doctrine disallowed his family from collecting damages or getting justice for their son.

What is the next move? United States Representative Maurice Hinchey, a democrat from New York, said that he would try to pass a bill next year that would challenge the law and give veterans the right to sue the government for negligence and medical malpractice. However, a similar bill failed to pass just two years ago due to a divided House. While many democrats believe that the bill is the only right thing to do for our military families, many republicans believe that ending the Feres Doctrine will be costly to the country and lead to estimated costs of $135 million in claims each year – never mind that the money would be going to injured soldiers and their families.

Still, although those who are fighting the law face a difficult battle, they refuse to give up their struggle to get injured soldiers the right to sue for personal injury and negligence.
Jim Keller
Partner at Keller & Keller

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