The U.S. Supreme Court is considering an appeal that may have an impact on military families in Ohio and across the country. The Court is considering whether it will review the 68-year-old legal doctrine that protects the Department of Defense from medical malpractice lawsuits.
The lawsuit was filed against the DOD following the death of an active-duty navy lieutenant commander. She died four hours after childbirth in 2014 at the Naval Hospital Bremerton, Washington where she served as a labor and delivery nurse.
She began hemorrhaging right after the delivery of her daughter. Medications were administered to stop the bleeding failed and she lost one-third of her body’s blood volume within two hours. Her husband, a former Coast Guard officer who filed the suit, also claimed that additional lifesaving procedures were not administered timely and played a role in her death.
His lawsuit and appeals were dismissed based on a 1950 Supreme Court ruling, known as the Feres doctrine, which prevents service personnel from suing the Defense Department from injuries related to their service. The Court, in that case, dismissed a lawsuit from the widow of a lieutenant who died in a barracks fire that was blamed on defective heating system along with two other lawsuits.
In its 1950 ruling, the Court found that the DOD has a disability compensation system for personnel and dependents. Allowing service members to sue the government would make courts question military discipline, according to the Court.
The plaintiff in this appeal argued that this lawsuit involves medical issues and is unrelated to military issues and judgments. The family of a civilian spouse at that military hospital would have been permitted to sue, according to the lawyer.
The U.S Solicitor General originally waived the right to file a response to the plaintiff’s appeal to the Court. This is typical because the Supreme Court has not heard an appeal of a Feres Doctrine case since 1987.
The Court, however, ordered the federal government to respond and granted an extension until Jan. 28 for its response. The plaintiff may file an answer. Later in 2019, the Justices will decide whether it will hear this appeal.
Victims of medical negligence and their families should seek legal representation. An attorney can help obtain evidence and overcome obstacles for filing a lawsuit for compensation.