In the past, military personnel have not been permitted to file medical malpractice claims against the government. In 1950, in a case known as Feres v. United States, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. is not liable under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) for injuries active duty military members received; this became known as the Feres Doctrine. The FTCA is a federal law that allows private citizens to seek compensation from the United States for a variety of torts, including injuries caused by government employees acting on behalf of the U.S in car accidents, medical malpractice cases, slip and falls, and certain wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits.
In 2020, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed a provision that allocated $738 billion to the U.S. military. The NDAA is a federal law that establishes the budget, expenses, and policies of the U.S. Department of Defense. The money will act as compensation for those members of the armed forces and their families who have been victims of medical negligence. One expert on the Feres Doctrine, said, “over the years, the Feres Doctrine has ‘wreaked havoc’ on tens of thousands of injured military personnel and their families.”
For example, a United States Army Special Forces sergeant was a victim of the doctrine. He suffers from stage 4 lung cancer and claims his doctors at an Army Medical Center initially misdiagnosed his condition, causing him to lose precious treatment time. In June 2017, the sergeant was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. This was months after he initially went to the medical center in January due to trouble breathing. After running a variety of tests and scans, his doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia and sent him home. In May of that year, however, the sergeant came back to the emergency room complaining of shortness of breath. It turned out that the initial scan from 5 month prior had shown a tumor in his lung. The original radiologist had misread the x-ray and missed the tumor. It was not until he re-visited the hospital that a new doctor re-reviewed and correctly interpreted the old scan as showing cancer. By that time, his tumor had doubled in size.
A slew of publicity arose about the sargeant’s misfortune in 2019. As a result, in December of 2019, the President signed the NDAA for the fiscal year of 2020 including the exemption of medical malpractice from the Feres Doctrine. Experts believe that the doctrine should be overturned in its entirety, and while this is a step in the right direction, more can be done for members of the military. As of January 1, 2020, members of the armed forces can file for compensation for medical malpractice incidents with the legal assistance of a lawyer, like a medical malpractice lawyer in Cleveland, OH from Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co., LPA, that happened before a 3-year statute of limitations expires.