This month’s edition of the “Justice For All,” newsletter reported on new efforts by the U.S. government to limit the right of military family members hurt by medical malpractice. The newsletter is published by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
As our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers have editorializes against, under an U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1950, the Feres Doctrine is in place which denies active-duty servicemembers the ability to seek legal compensation for malpractice that occurs at military medical facilities. The case was essentially rooted in the claimed effect that such suits might have on battle-readiness for the troops and the service’s ability to carry out its military functions. Many legal scholars have questioned the merit of that decision and its current applicability. In fact, a legal challenge was mounted in recent years to reverse course and allow servicemembers the same rights as civilians. However, the nation’s highest court issued another ruling in the cases which essentially stopped the effort in its tracks. It does not look like members of our military will be able to use the civil just system to seek recourse for medical malpractice for the foreseeable future.
However, perhaps emboldened by their victory in the most recent case, now U.S. attorneys are arguing that the legal doctrine also prevent spouses and children of servicemembers from having the ability to hold military hospitals, clinics, and doctors accountable when they are the victims of inadequate medical care that causes them harm. This argument is being brought forward by the government in its defense in a tragic case out of Florida. The case involves an active-duty navy mechanic whose wife visited a military medical clinic complaining of problems. The clinic failed to diagnose her with what turned out to be a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. The wife died, and the husband brought a medical malpractice lawsuit seeking accountability for the harm to his wife.
Government officials are claiming that the Feres doctrine limits the active-duty servicemember from filing suit even for negligent care that his family received. Each Illinois medical malpractice lawyer at our firm knows that in the past federal lawyers have settled many cases where negligent care led to the death of a military family member. That means that this latest tactic is a new approach to these cases, one that might have serious implications for military families down the road.
This may very well be a concerted effort by those involved to even further marginalize military families receiving inadequate care, even in the most heartbreaking circumstances. For example, the same judge that is hearing the case from the Navy mechanic is also hearing a case involving the death of a newborn whose parents are both active duty Navy personnel. A suit filed by the family claims that the child died as a result of mistakes made during his birth. However, federal attorneys are arguing that the birth was “incident” to the parents work as members of the military. The lawyers are claiming that therefore the claim is barred under the Feres doctrine.
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