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New Law: Active Military Can Finally Sue Government for Medical Malpractice

For 70 years, active duty military members have been barred from pursuing medical malpractice lawsuits against the Armed Forces for negligence that causes an injury. This was because of the Feres Doctrine, a legal doctrine that resulted from a United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Feres v. U.S.

Army Lt. Rudolph Feres was a highly decorated World War II veteran who fought in Normandy during D-Day. In 1947, he died in a fire in the barracks at Pine Camp, New York. The fire was caused by a faulty heating system. His widow filed a negligence lawsuit against the Army, accusing them of negligence, alleging the Army knew or should have known that the heating system was dangerous. The lawsuit was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

 

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The district court dismissed the lawsuit and the appeals court confirmed that dismissal. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In their decision, the justices wrote that the FTCA did not require all negligence claim to be allowed. In their decision, they also wrote, the “Government is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service.”

The Feres Doctrine has denied countless numbers of active-duty members and their families from holding the federal government accountable for negligence, including medical negligence. A new federal law, however, has changed that.

The National Defense Authorization Act 2020 (H.R. 2500), which was signed in December, has a provision that specifically states that claims can be brought against the government for damages relating to medical injury or death of an active military member in medical or dental treatment. Victims and their families need to also be aware that there is a three-year statute of limitations from the time the victim discovers the injury.

Unfortunately, the new law only applies to medical negligence. In cases like Lt. Feres, the victims still would not be able to pursue for personal injury damages against the government. Some of the more common types of cases that could qualify under the new law include:

  • A victim with terminal cancer that military doctors had missed in earlier stages that could have been effectively treated.
  • A victim whose military surgeon left a surgical sponge inside the surgical site.
  • A victim who developed a deadly infection because medical staff at a military hospital failed to adhere to proper protocols.

Contact Shapiro & Appleton for Help

If you or a family member has suffered serious illness due to a doctor’s missed or late diagnosis, contact a seasoned Virginia medical malpractice attorney to discuss what legal options you may have. The attorneys at our personal injury firm understand how devastating medical errors like these can be to a family, not only emotionally, but also financially. At Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn, we have successfully represented many clients in obtaining the financial compensation they deserved and will aggressively advocate for you and your family.

Eric K. Washburn
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia