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Feres doctrine: Protecting military hospitals from lawsuits?

Are military hospitals protected against lawsuits from those in the military? Unfortunately, they are protected by the Feres doctrine, which was created as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1950. The doctrine prevents military members from suing the government over injuries suffered in combat, training or other military activities. What may not have been expected, though, was the impact it would have on those in military hospitals. Critics of the doctrine say it protects military hospitals from malpractice claims, even though those claims may be legitimate.

Under the Feres doctrine, you can't sue the government, if you're a military member, for any injuries that you suffer incident to service. That doesn't seem like it should apply to those in military hospitals in many cases; for instance, a baby born with birth injuries was not being born as a result of service actions. Illnesses like a ruptured appendix or another illness may not be a result of service, either.

One area of particular concern is when sentinel events occur. These are events that happen unexpectedly and lead to serious injury or death. There were 174 of these instances in 2015, and 32 involved mothers or fetuses during childbirth. Cases either settled or dismissed included one where a 20-year-old had his aorta punctured during gallbladder surgery, one where a 29-year-old was diagnosed with melanoma but didn't receive that information and another where a 21-year-old man died when he was given a medication that spurred a life-threatening fever. The doctor failed to give him the antidote until hours later.

If you're in the military or are a military family member fighting against this doctrine, your attorney can help. The laws may be changing, and you may be able to work toward a settlement for the medical malpractice you've faced.

Source: Military Times, "Tragedy and injustice: The heartbreaking truth about military medical malpractice," Patricia Kime, July 11, 2016

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