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Former airman challenges Feres Doctrine with negligence suit

For more than 60 years, the Feres Doctrine has protected the U.S. government from being sued for medical malpractice by members of the military. The doctrine originated after a 1950 legal case in which the Supreme Court ruled that negligently caused injuries or deaths are "incident to military service," even if they don't occur in combat. Military members in Massachusetts and nationwide who are injured during service are entitled to other forms of no-fault compensation, including pensions, VA disability and medical care.

Over the years, a variety of medical malpractice lawsuits have been brought against the military unsuccessfully and a retired airman is the latest to challenge the Feres Doctrine. He and his wife have sued the government for $34.3 million in damages for pain, loss of earning capacity, physical impairment, disfigurement and mental anguish. The husband and wife have filed a 25-page lawsuit with a graphic description of what went terribly wrong during a routine gallbladder procedure at a U.S. Air Force base hospital.

According to the report, the airman barely survived the laparoscopic surgery after one of the doctors lacerated the airman's aorta. He was transferred to a civilian hospital nine hours later, but by that time his legs had been without blood flow for hours and had to be amputated. According to the suit, the medical team made a series of poor decisions and took grossly negligent and delayed remedial action that ultimately resulted in the amputation of the patient's legs.

Despite his years of service working as an intelligence analyst who scanned imagery from U-2 spy planes and Global Hawk drones over Iraq and Afghanistan, the man doesn't have the right to seek redress for the harms inflicted upon him. It's possible that the results of this lawsuit will differ from former cases of this kind. Massachusetts readers may want to follow this story to find out.

Source: Star-Telegram, "Former airman sues U.S. after losing legs to botched surgery," Chris Vaughn, April 1, 2012

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