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Cerebral Palsy Lawsuit Dismissed Based on Feres Doctrine

Birth Injury LawsuitA cerebral palsy lawsuit filed in Colorado has been decided in favor of the defendant, the United States of America. The grounds for the decision were based on a legal doctrine that was established in the 1950s and has been receiving plenty of scrutiny of late.

The Feres Doctrine prohibits military personnel from holding the U.S. government liable for injuries rendered while on active duty, a doctrine that has been widely interpreted and some say, misunderstood.

Birth injury occurred six years ago

The lawsuit was filed in district court by the father of the injured child. According to the complaint, the mother of the child was admitted to Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson, Colorado, on March 16, 2009, for a pre-planned Cesarean delivery. The mother was an Air Force captain at the time of the delivery.

Prior to her C-section, the mother was given Zantac to prevent possible gastrointestinal issues that could interfere with the delivery of her baby girl. However, the mother was allergic to Zantac, a fact that was included in her medical chart. To counter the allergic reaction, the mother was then given Benadryl. That medication led to significant drop in the mother’s blood pressure.

While the mother recovered from the blood pressure drop, the consequences on her unborn daughter were catastrophic. The child suffered brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation caused by her mother’s blood pressure changes. The child has since been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a condition that will require ongoing medical care over her lifetime.

Plaintiff alleges negligence by hospital staff

In his birth injury case, the plaintiff father alleges the staff of Evans Army Community Hospital was negligent in giving his wife a medication that she was allergic to, as indicated on her chart. They were further negligent, the complaint asserts, because they did not heed warning signs on the fetal monitoring strips that indicated the baby was in trouble. The plaintiff was seeking damages to pay for the round-the-clock medical care her daughter would likely need for the rest of her life.

The district court dismissed the case, citing the Feres Doctrine. The judge overseeing the case determined that the United States could not be held liable for the baby’s injuries because they were a direct result of the mother’s injuries. The mother’s injuries could not be taken into account, since the mother was an active-duty service member at the time the injuries occurred.

The plaintiff father appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, but that court also sided with the defendant, citing the Feres Doctrine. The appeals court, like the district court, determined the baby’s injuries were derivative of the blood pressure drop in the mother.

Feres Doctrine questioned

This is not the first time the Feres Doctrine has come under fire in a court of law. The doctrine, which was originally established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1950, specifically stated that prohibited claims were those “arising out of the combatant activities of the military…during times of war.” Despite that wording, the doctrine has been used to prevent military personnel from filing medical malpractice lawsuits against the government in a wide range of situations.

The attorney that filed the cerebral palsy claim for this plaintiff has told media sources that they plan to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  1. Military Times, Birth Injury Lawsuit Revives Feres Debate,

  2. The Blaze, Military, Court Deny Assistance to Military Child Based on Law You’ve Probably Never Heard of,

  3. Time, The Unfairness of the Feres Doctrine,

  4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Cerebral Palsy: Hope through Research,