One of the more illogical and unfair legal rules involving medical malpractice lawsuits stems from a mid-century United States Supreme court case Feres v. United States. The case essentially ruled that the United States government cannot be held liable for medical malpractice committed by military doctors at military hospitals. Known as the “Feres Doctine,” the rule effectively bars members of the armed forces from collecting damages against the government in these situations and similarly bans the family of service members from filing wrongful death or loss of consortium claims. Many medical malpractice attorneys have often argued against this wrong-headed approach that for no good reason takes away the rights of brave military families.
However, while the rule unfairly takes away rights of service members harmed by medical malpractice, it does not apply to family members of those military members who are themselves hurt by negligent government hospital care. For example, as reported last week by New England Cable News, a settlement was recently reached in one of those cases involving the wife of an army staff sergeant.
The medical malpractice lawsuit was filed by the army sergeant on behalf of his wife who died last may from rectal cancer at the age of 53. According to allegations made in the suit, the woman had experienced persistent symptoms often associated with the cancer. However, those symptoms notwithstanding, the local army community hospital failed to screen her for the cancer. As a result, the cancer went undiagnosed and spread to her lymph nodes.
The suit specifically explained how the victim first went to the hospital on the military base in 2006 complaining of blood in her stool, constipation, and other pain. She returned to the facility on multiple occasions, complaining of the same symptoms. She was diagnosed with hemorrhoids. A bariatric surgeon actually recommended that a colonoscopy be performed. However, that recommendation was ignored and no other cancer screening procedures were performed. The woman ultimately underwent several surgeries in an attempt to battle the problem, but none of them were ultimately successful.
Just this week the judge in the case approved a settlement offered by the government and accepted by the plaintiff. Per the terms of the settlement, the U.S. government will pay $2.15 million to the soldier due to the negligence that led to his wife’s death. The settlement will officially be finalized upon the final approval of the U.S. Attorney General.
Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers understand that the loss is no less and the negligence just as harmful when a military medical professionals harms a patient. There is no logical reason for the Feres doctrine to apply to those victims who happen to receive care at a military base. However, it is at least some comfort that the strange legal doctrine does not apply to family members of those in the military. At least the family in this case was capable of protecting their basic legal right to adequate medical services and holding their negligent medical workers accountable for the deadly consequences of their poor care.
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