Military Members' Civil Rights Come to Fore in Recent Reports | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

The jobs soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and National Guardsmen do require them to take great personal risks. These brave men and women too often get injured or killed in the line of duty.

None should face risks from their superiors or civilian colleagues, however. Members of the military do not surrender their basic civil rights to protection from intentional or negligent harm when they put on their uniforms. If anything, the men and women of our Armed Services need to have more protection from personal injury.


Why should service members not be entitled to sue if a military doctor or military hospital commits medical malpractice? Under a court-imposed doctrine known as the Feres Doctrine, an active-duty military member normally cannot bring a medical malpractice claim against a doctor working in a naval hospital, even for gross negligence. Moreover, these protections seem completely inappropriate, particularly when the problem did not occur in a war setting.

There are also various legal obstacles to bringing suits for the negligence of contractors working at military bases whose acts cause injury.

Three recent news stories brought these thoughts to my mind. The most recent involves repeated reports of inappropriate hazing and sexual harassment committed by a noncommissioned officer serving with a dog-handling Navy dog-handling unit in Bahrain during 2007. Earlier in Iraq, a West Virginia National Guard was chronically exposed to a toxic chemical used in oil drilling. The contractor placed in charge of the site where the environmental exposure occurred, KBR, has already paid out millions in settlements to its workers and other Guardsmen. It is unclear whether the NCO who oversaw sailor abuse in Bahrain ever received punishment.

Because active-duty members face so many risks–and also because the harm done during military service may not show up for decades after discharge or retirement–my law firm of Shapiro & Appleton specializes in military injury cases. We understand how to process military injury claims, and we understand motorcycle accidents involving service members. We could do no less and still meet the legal needs of such a large segment of the Hampton Roads community.