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Feres Doctrine challenged in medical malpractice lawsuit

The Feres Doctrine is a 62-year-old legal precedent that protects the United States government under the Federal Tort Claims Act from liability for injuries suffered by active duty service members. Maryland residents may already know that medical malpractice and tort reform is a rather hot-topic of discussion today among voters and the press. More and more states are protecting health care providers with laws that limit the amount of non-economic liability for injuries suffered through the negligence of doctors and other health care providers.

One medically retired service member is challenging the Feres Doctrine by suing the U.S. government for negligence. The plaintiff claims that military surgeons botched a routine gallbladder operation so badly in July 2009 that surgeons had to amputate his legs in order to save his life.

The lawsuit seeks more than $34 million in damages for the victim and another $20 million for the victim's wife. The damages surround the loss of household services from her husband as well as the loss of a normal relationship and enjoyment of life, or loss of capacity to enjoy life.

According to the plaintiff's attorney, he took the case to try to overturn this outdated, unjust and judiciously wrong precedent. He says his client, as well as every other active-duty service member deserves to have the right to seek redress for injuries they suffer through the negligence of doctors and health care providers employed by the federal government.

This case is just the latest to challenge the strict limits placed on active duty military personnel who want to sue military doctors for medical malpractice. A doctor or health care provider is considered to be negligent when he or she fails to provide an accepted standard of care. In June of 2011, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear a military medical malpractice case in which a staff sergeant was left in a persistent vegetative state after a routine appendectomy procedure went wrong in 2003.

That decision followed a trend by the court in recent years to deny hearing cases challenging the Feres Doctrine. Several states have implemented caps on non-monetary damages in all medical malpractice cases; however these laws have also been challenged in a number of pending cases.

If you have been injured through the negligent or careless actions of a healthcare facility, surgeon or staff member, consult with a personal injury attorney to learn what steps you can take to protect your rights and recover damages for your injuries.

Source: Stars and Stripes, "Should troops get the right to sue the US for medical malpractice?," Apr. 1, 2012

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