Widower Appeals to Supreme Court to Allow Pursuit of Medical Malpractice CaseNovember 28, 2018
Pursuing a legal claim against the U.S. military health system can be extremely difficult for surviving members of a deceased military member’s family. A recent case filed in the U.S. Supreme Court is hoping to change that. The surviving spouse of an active duty Navy lieutenant who suffered fatal complications during childbirth in a Navy hospital has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court with the hopes of bringing medical malpractice charges against the hospital.
The Wrongful Death Suit
In 2014, an active duty Naval officer suffered fatal complications as a result of hemorrhaging during childbirth at the Naval Hospital Bremerton. At the time, the lieutenant officer worked as a nurse at the same hospital. The widower of the Naval officer filed a wrongful death suit against the United States alleging medical malpractice. According to the complaint, the officer lost more than 1,500 milliliters of blood when the medical team did not follow established postpartum standards of care. They failed to administer blood or plasma transfusions and failed to properly check the patient’s coagulation levels.
Both the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the case based on the Feres Doctrine. In its decision, the Ninth Circuit uncharacteristically mentioned this case may invite a challenge to the Feres Doctrine.
The Feres Doctrine
Under the Feres Doctrine, members of the armed forces may not file suit against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Established by the 1950 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Feres v. United States, the doctrine holds that the government is not liable for injuries sustained by military service members during active duty. Over the years, the policy has been broadened to bar surviving family members from bringing medical malpractice suits against military hospitals when an active duty member of the armed services suffers injuries resulting from activities not related to combat, including medical malpractice and sexual violence. Critics of the Feres Doctrine argue it violates the legal rights of service members by not allowing them to hold the government accountable for patient safety at military health facilities, such as the Naval Hospital Bremerton.
Petition to the U.S. Supreme Court
In his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the widower appealed the lower courts’ denial of his right to pursue a medical malpractice case against the government. The petition requests a change in the Feres Doctrine as it applies to medical malpractice cases in non-battlefield and non-combat situations. The petition makes clear at the time of her death, the military officer was in no way acting as a member of the military.
Several military and veteran groups have publicly called for revisions to the Feres Doctrine, citing the need for increased accountability for military health care providers. According to Pentagon research, the average rate of newborn injuries during delivery at military hospitals is twice the national average for civilian hospitals. If the U.S. Supreme Court grants the petition of the surviving spouse, he will be able to pursue his medical malpractice claim against the military hospital and the United States, while seeking compensation for the tragic death of his wife.
Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Assist Victims of Medical Negligence
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