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Military hospital malpractice challenge to move to Congress

In our previous post we discussed a controversial decision of the United States Supreme Court to protect military hospitals from being held accountable for the medical malpractice of their staff members. The court did this by declining to hear a legal challenge to the Feres Doctrine, the 1950's legal rule that prevents military families from suing the hospitals for malpractice.

"It is disappointing that the Supreme Court has again failed to correct the mistake it made 61 years ago when it wrongly decided Feres," a congressman said.

The challenge to the Feres Doctrine had widespread support from veterans groups and military hospitals. Several of these groups filed briefs with the Supreme Court to demonstrate that there was public interest in resolving this issue. The court did not have the will to change the law and lawmakers may have a problem in introducing legislation to change the law as well. Past attempts to challenge the law in court or to legislatively modify the law have failed. Some experts speculate that changing the law is even less likely given the current financial problems that face the government because lawmakers are more concerned about protecting the government's pocketbook than helping military family members.

Some estimate that the federal government could face a liability totaling billions of dollars for medical malpractice claims if the law is changed. The bill faced by the government would be $2.7 billion over a decade if the repeal of the Feres Doctrine was made retroactive. The average yearly cost for medical malpractice claims would be approximately $135 million moving forward.

Despite the uphill battle waiting in Congress, patients' rights advocates are undaunted and will continue to push forward.

"We're not going to give up the fight for these military families," a lawyer who challenged the Feres Doctrine said. "We're going to do whatever we can do to right this wrong."

Source: Insurance Journal, "Supreme Court Declines to Hear Military Medical Liability Case," Mitch Stacy, 6/30/11

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