Wisconsin military members may be interested in a malpractice case grabbing headlines this week. An airman has filed a lawsuit against the United States government, alleging personal injury after a routine gallbladder surgery went terribly wrong. His lawsuit is a direct challenge to the so-called Feres Doctrine, which mostly prevents active-duty military personnel from suing military doctors for malpractice. It is claimed that the personal injury suffered in this case has detrimentally affected the man's ability to live a normal life.
The lawsuit claims that the routine gallbladder surgery was so botched by military doctors that both of his legs needed to be amputated. His lawsuit, if allowed to proceed, seeks a minimum of $34.3 million in damages for the military member and $20.5 million for his wife due to the "loss of household services of her husband, loss of a normal relationship with her husband and loss of enjoyment of life or loss of capacity to enjoy life." The Feres Doctrine could possibly prevent his lawsuit from being heard as it protects the government from liability when negligence of military doctors causes troops to suffer.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously refused to hear challenges to the Feres Doctrine. Recently, the court refused to hear a June 2011 malpractice case where a military member underwent a routine appendectomy that was allegedly so severely botched that the service member was left in a vegetative state. If the court's trend continues, this lawsuit may be dismissed as well.
It will be interesting to see how this malpractice suit plays out as the courts continue to grapple with an ongoing problem. If the case is allowed to go forward, it could offer hope to Wisconsin troops who may have suffered negligence at the hands of military doctors. If turned away, the Feres Doctrine will continue to prevent troops from holding the government liable for its health care negligence against those sworn to defend our country.
Source: Stars and Stripes, "Should troops get the right to sue the US for medical malpractice?" April 1, 2012