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Feres Doctrine Makes it Next to Impossible to Sue the Military for Medical Malpractice

According to Military Times, 2,111 administrative claims for medical malpractice were filed against the Army, Navy, and Air Force medical hospitals and medical centers from 2010-2015. Of those 2,111 claims, 254 resulted in medical malpractice lawsuits.

In 2015 alone, 174 “sentinel events” – or unexpected occurrences resulting in death or serious physical or psychological injury – were recorded at military healthcare facilities, with at least 32 resulting in injury to a new mother and her fetus or newborn child.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Feres Doctrine, which was introduced in 1950, service members cannot file a medical malpractice lawsuit, or personal injury suit of any kind, while on active duty (Feres v. United States 340 U.S. 135 (1950)). This means that military doctors and personnel are virtually free from liability when they commit even the grossest acts of negligence, and that victims of negligence are left without any justice.

Recent Cases of Tragedy and Injustice

On March 8th, 2013, Rebekah Moani Daniel—a 33-year-old Navy lieutenant—died within four hours of giving birth to her newborn daughter. While her delivery was textbook, Daniel started bleeding profusely postpartum. She was administered several drugs – each increasingly stronger than the last – to stanch the flow, and when that did not work, a balloon device meant to halt the bleeding was employed. However, the device was used too late, and within two hours of giving birth, the new mother had lost one to one and a half quarts of blood—three times the average during child birth, and about one-third of the body’s volume.

A blood transfusion, which should have been ordered as soon as the initial drugs proved inadequate, was ordered 90 minutes after the standard recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. By the time Daniel received the transfusion, her body had already begun to shut down.

Daniel died without ever getting the chance to hold her newborn daughter.

Rebekah’s husband, then Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Walter Daniel, tried filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Naval hospital but to no avail. He is currently retired from the Coast Guard and raising his now three year old daughter alone. However, he continues to seek justice for his wife’s death, along with an apology from the doctors responsible.

In March of 2009, Captain Heather Ortiz, an active duty service member of the United States Air Force, was admitted to Evans Army Community Hospital for a routine Caesarean section. Complications caused by the medical staff led to the administration of Zantac—a drug that Ortiz’s medical records clearly indicated she was allergic to. The medical staff tried to counteract the reaction by administering Benadryl, which caused Captain Ortiz’s blood pressure to drop so low as to incite hypotension. As a result, oxygen levels to Ortiz’s unborn baby became critically low, causing serious and irreparable brain damage.

Captain Ortiz’s husband, Jorge Ortiz, filed a lawsuit against the United States, seeking damages and compensation for the long-term care that his daughter now requires. After nearly six years in the United States Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit, Ortiz’s case was closed, and the ruling was in favor of the United States of America.

Is It Possible to File a Successful Military Medical Malpractice Claim?

While extremely difficult to do, it is possible to see justice in the event of military medical malpractice. Cases like Rebekah Daniel’s and Captain Ortiz’s has brought light to the unfairness of the Feres Doctrine, and has caused thousands of the Feres Doctrine’s opponents—both military service members and civilians—to voice their concerns. And they are being heard. In fact, just recently, part of the Feres Doctrine was overturned. In January of 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the KBR (a major military contracting company) and other private military contractors (PMCs) can now be sued for injury or death as a result of negligence. Though this ruling has not yet affected military medical care, it is a major landmark decision that gives hope to service members and their families.

Consult a Jacksonville Personal Injury Lawyer

At The Pendas Law Firm, our medical malpractice lawyers believe in helping our clients exercise their rights as citizens of the United States—especially when those citizens also happen to be individuals willing to die for our rights. If you or a loved one have been injured or killed due to gross negligence by a military doctor or military personnel, contact our Jacksonville law firm at 1-888-LPENDAS or schedule a private consultation online today. We can help you determine whether or not you have a case, and if you do, how to go about achieving the best possible outcome.

In addition to serving clients in the Jacksonville area, our firm also serves individuals in Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale & Miami.

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