Military members lack protection in medical negligence cases

In July 2009, a member of the U.S. military underwent surgery to have his gallbladder removed. But when military doctors began performing the routine laparoscopic procedure, a serious surgical errorwas made that eventually caused the man to lose both of his legs.

When doctors started performing the operation, the one surgeon mistakenly punctured the patient’s aorta. This caused massive bleeding, but other doctors did not notice that there was a complication until the man’s blood pressure began to drop after his operation. Medical staff opened up the man’s abdomen again and discovered the lacerated aorta. The laceration was fixed, but the repair was not made in time to prevent the patient from suffering life-threatening injuries.

As the man’s health continued to worsen after the laceration was fixed, doctors finally made the decision hours later to transfer him to a civilian hospital. Doctors at the civilian hospital discovered that the man’s aorta was not properly supplying blood to his legs and his legs had to be amputated because too much time had passed. Now, if you have been reading our Chicago medical malpractice law blog for awhile, you might assume that this man could be entitled to a medical malpractice settlement for his injuries, but according to a U.S. doctrine and previous Supreme Court rulings, military doctors cannot be held liable for their medical mistakes.

The Feres Doctrine, which was enacted in the 1950s, protects the government from negligence claims filed by members of the military. The doctrine claims that due to the nature of the military and the nature of the activities service members participate in, the military cannot be held liable for deaths or injuries believed to be caused by negligence. This includes deaths and injuries of service members that occur outside of combat.

However, the man is now challenging the Feres Doctrine and is pursuing a lawsuit against the government. The man’s attorney claims that this doctrine is “extremely unjust” and that military members have a right to be protected in instances of medical malpractice. The man is seeking more than $30 million in damages. He claims that he still suffers from physical pain and mental anguish over the botched surgery.

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


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