Medical Malpractice and Servicemembers

Medical malpractice has long been condoned if perpetrated against a service member. Now, in an effort to rectify this grossly unfair situation involving those serving their country, members of the House Judiciary Committee forwarded a bill to the full House of Representatives which would permit servicemembers to sue the military in certain cases of medical malpractice.
While this is a step in the right direction, it appears doubtful the full House and Senate (a companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, is working through the Senate) will take action to pass this bill. The bill would allow civil lawsuits against military doctors in cases of clear medical negligence, something that’s currently prohibited under federal law.
The current prohibition on servicemembers is based upon the Feres Doctrine, a legal precedent from the 1947 death of active-duty soldier Lt. Rudolph Feres who was killed in a barracks fire. His widow sued the Army for negligence, claiming the facility had a defective heating plant and substandard fire safety controls. But the Supreme Court ruled that servicemembers performing military duties do not fall under federal rules allowing lawsuits against the government.
The House bill is named for Carmelo Rodriguez, a Marine Corps sergeant who died in January 2007 after battle with skin cancer. Military doctors first diagnosed the cancer 10 years earlier, but a series of military doctors failed to warn him of the lillness for nearly eight years. When his family tried to sue to force changes in medical notifications, the courts turned them away.
Critics of Hinchey’s bill say the measure opens the door for time-consuming, frivolous lawsuits and will discourage potential recruits from joining the military.
But in a statement yesterday, the American Association for Justice called the proposal a basic issue of fairness.
“Currently, the law unfairly treats our brave servicemen and women as second-class citizens,” said Anthony Tarricone, president of the association. “But this legislation would restore their basic legal rights and protect them from injuries they receive as a result of preventable medical errors.”

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