There has been a $450,000.00 settlement of a wrongful death claim arising from the Portsmouth Naval Hospital due to a doctor’s failure to reinsert a breathing tube, according to published reports. A 43-year-old wife of a retired U.S. Navy petty officer had a boil on her thigh which became infected and was referred to Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. Then, she had emergency surgery and during that surgery was treated by the attending anesthesiologist. Something went wrong during the surgery and the anesthesiologist failed to reintubate the woman when she developed some obstruction in her breathing. She was transferred on an emergency basis to the intensive care unit but apparently during the transport she was left without a breathing tube for over ten minutes and went into cardiopulmonary arrest, according to published reports of the settlement.
At the ICU unit she had no pulse or blood pressure and never regained consciousness. She hung onto to live for about four days without any brain function before life support was removed as hopeless. She was survived by a husband and a 20-year-old son at the time of her death and settlement was reached during a settlement conference with the United States Magistrate Judge. The Federal Tort Claims Act governs personal injury claims against the USA and its agents, and such claims are filed only in federal courts.
Recently, U.S. Senator James Webb of Virginia requested an investigation into medical care at Veterans Hospitals operated by the United States of America. When medical malpractice occurs at a United States operated hospital or clinic, any claim for medical malpractice normally falls under provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act, also known at the FTCA. While the FTCA allows recovery for traditional lost medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and in wrongful death cases various provisions of damages, the Act does not allow for a jury trial but instead mandates a judge trial. The actions are also filed in federal court only. The other limitation on FTCA type of claims is that active military do not have any action for medical malpractice that occurs at a United States operated military hospital, due to a legal ruling called the Feres Doctrine, which has been a subject of new legislation in Congress because of the inequity since a spouse or family member of active military has a medical malpractice action, but the active military member does not.