Proposed Bill Would Let Troops Sue for Medical Malpractice
The Feres Doctrine prevents military personnel from suing the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act due to any injury that is considered incidental to their line of work. However, the Feres Doctrine has been routinely interpreted to include medical malpractice that was suffered by those on active duty who received treatment from medical doctors. Now, a new bill would change that by allowing military personnel to sue doctors for the negligent practice of medicine.
This has been a long time coming and many military wives, children, and soldiers have remarked on how the Feres Doctrine has robbed them of rights that all other U.S. citizens have. Indeed, U.S. citizens, with few exceptions, are entitled to sue medical care providers if they fail to provide a reasonable standard of care. So why shouldn’t military members also be allowed to do the same?
Doctors Failed to Diagnose Lung Cancer in Green Beret
The new bill is spurred by a ruling that prevented a Green Beret from suing the hospital that failed to diagnose his lung cancer. The Green Beret, who is now dying, hopes to change the legislation that prevents his wife and children from being awarded any benefits from the mistake that cost him his life. The bill will allow those with pending claims to have their cases heard while also permitting those with future claims to sue.
While the bill opens up the possibility for those who have been victimized by medical malpractice to sue, it does have key restrictions. Those who are injured in the line of duty or active combat would not be allowed to sue battlefield medics at battalion aid stations, or on ships. It would only apply to those who received care at military hospitals and who sustained serious injury as a result of medical malpractice.
No One is Accountable
Part of the problem with extending the Feres Doctrine to include medical malpractice is that there was no system of accountability for those whose substandard rendering of care cost veterans their lives. In some cases, complaints filed against (for instance) a nurse who administered a nearly lethal dose of fentanyl and left the patient with permanent brain damage, was involved in two other cases in which patients died. But the statute made it illegal to sue either the nurse or the hospital causing future deaths and preventing a financial incentive to raise the standard of care.
Detractors from the proposed legislation argue that military personnel and their families are already entitled to generous no-fault benefits if they are injured regardless of who is at fault. Additionally, they believe that disrupting the Feres Doctrine would put other service members at risk by allowing military personnel to sue military personnel. However, doctors are not generally “employees” of the hospitals they work at and are usually considered contractors—contractors who are not required to carry malpractice insurance because there is no risk of a malpractice lawsuit. Wouldn’t military hospitals then become a magnet for those who were no longer insurable? That’s part of the delicate balance that the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to address.
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