Government Settlement in Naval Malpractice Case Highlights Need to Change Law | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

The family of Miriam “Feenee” Hadley received a $450,000 settlement from the federal government in a medical malpractice case focused on the death of Miriam after a surgery to remove an infected boil.  The settlement represents a measure of compensation for her surviving spouse, but the senseless death of Miriam Hadley will linger.  This is a patient death that proper medical care could have readily prevented.

Miriam’s death occurred at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center and her husband is a retired Navy petty office named Randy Handley.

What’s truly disturbing about this case is the realization that if Randy died at the medical center, his family would have no legal recourse in seeking justice. Why? Because of what’s known as the Feres Doctrine.  

This doctrine, dating back to a 1950 Supreme Court ruling, disallows negligence lawsuits on behalf of military service members. This means a civilian has more legal rights than our brave men and women in uniform. It’s an unfair and simply illogical doctrine, as evident by the Hadley case.

If Miriam had served in the United States military, her family would not have been able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Does that make sense? Of course not. The individuals who put their lives on the line for our country deserve equal rights when it comes to medical malpractice claims.

The injustice doesn’t stop with military personnel either. Since Miriam’s death occurred in a government medical center, the family’s claim falls under a federal law known as the Federal Tort Claims Act. There are a number of rules and stipulations encompassing this law including:

1) All suits must be filed in federal courts

2) There is no right to a jury trial. The matter is decided by a federal judge

 3) Before any such suit can be filed, there is an administrative claim form which must be filed with the government that is a prerequisite to any lawsuit. This is essentially a trap that can snuff out a claim when a person fails to follow the administrative rule.  

What’s the solution if you’re filing a claim against the government? Obtain legal advice as soon as possible.

As an injury lawyer practicing for over 20 years in Virginia (VA), I’ve represented numerous individuals in medical malpractice cases. For example, I handled a malpractice case involving a woman whose husband was in active military service. She underwent obesity-reducing gastric bypass surgery in December 1996 by a surgeon in at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, (VA), and endured horrendous after effects due to the improper stapling of the gastric pouch. These effects included vomiting, ulceration, the loss of her teeth due to nutrient deficiency, and multiple surgeries to correct the initial error.

I argued the case effectively by illustrating the damage done to my client’s body and the lifelong ramifications. The judge approved an attempt at mediation with a federal magistrate judge who successfully assisted in having the government pay our client substantial compensation. Once again, reverse the situation – if her husband had suffered the same injuries, they would not be able to file a claim at all. Simply outrageous.  Congress has been considering changes and if you get an opportunity write to your U.S. Senator and express your support for a change in “the Feres Doctrine.”