People in California should know that, until recently, members of the military were unable to pursue medical malpractice lawsuits related to their service. This frustrating doctrine goes back over 70 years, to the mid-1940s. Recently, it became clear that this doctrine was doing more harm than good.
Understanding the Feres Doctrine
The Feres Doctrine made it impossible for service members and their estates to sue members of the US government for injury or death related to their service. It’s named after the Supreme Court decision in Feres v. US. But over the years, this started to seem unjust. One service member was serving in Iraq when he was shot in the lung. Later, when he was having breathing trouble, an Army doctor diagnosed him with pneumonia. However, a later visit to a civilian doctor found the real cause of his breathing problem: lung cancer.
Cancer is a serious illness that can spread with time. It’s important for doctors to intervene as early as possible. The aforementioned case convinced some key people in government that change was needed. Today, there’s a limited exception to the Feres Doctrine for cases like his. This was created under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. The text of the law reads that suits are possible for, “medical malpractice of a Department of Defense health care provider.”
There are still some gaps in this law. For example, it’s unclear if people are covered for malpractice incidents that occur outside of VA facilities. It also seems to preclude people from suing civilian medical employees of the armed forces, including trainee doctors and dentists. However, the NDAA still represents a big step forward. Soldiers who believe they may have a case thanks to this legal change should reach out to an experienced medical malpractice attorney.