Supreme Court Urged To Hear Military Members Medical Malpractice Suits
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On March 22, 2019, the widower of a naval officer who died four months after childbirth, urged the U.S. Supreme Court to loosen a long-standing precedent known as the Feres doctrine. The doctrine prevents active duty military service members from suing the government in court for injuries that are "incident to military service." It applies to all types of tort injuries but medical malpractice cases by military doctors and hospitals have caused the most concern and discussion.
In this case, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Rebekah Daniel died of hemorrhaging four moths after childbirth at a military hospital. Her husband, Walter Daniel, filed the original lawsuit against the federal government in 2015, alleging that the negligence of the naval hospital’s medical staff resulted in the wrongful death of his wife.
In the recent filing, Daniel argues that the Feres doctrine should not extend to bar medical malpractice suits where the disputed medical treatment did not involve "any military exigencies or considerations." He also argues that the Feres prohibition should not apply to situations where the service member wasn't engaged in military duties at the time of their injury.
Challenges Against the Feres Doctrine.
One of the main arguments in Lt. Daniel's case is that the alleged negligence that caused her death was unrelated to her military service. However, cases that followed the initial ruling have established that the doctrine also encompasses allegations of negligent treatment for service members at military hospitals that did not arise in relation to their military service.
The Feres doctrine has long been a controversial decision, criticized either explicitly or implicitly by veterans groups and some lower courts.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in this case in May 2018 to uphold the lower court's decision to dismiss the suit. It's decision noted that it was "regretfully" bound by the Feres doctrine. It also added: "if ever there were a case to carve out an exception to the Feres doctrine, this is it." Click here to read the court’s opinion on the dismissal in full.
Click here to read Daniel’s brief in full.
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Stanford, Julianne. “Petition filed for Supreme Court review of Navy nurse wrongful death suit.” Kitsap Sun. (October 11, 2018). Web.
Kang, Peter. “Justices Urged To Let Military Members Bring Med Mal Suits.” Law360. (March 22, 2019). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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