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Military Family Challenges Medical Malpractice Rules

medical-malpracticeWhen a child suffers from a birth injury as a result of negligence, the parents usually have the option of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible parties. Oddly enough, the basic right to pursue justice in court is denied to military families because of the Feres doctrine. One military family, currently based in San Antonio, is hoping to change that.

They have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court after their original medical malpractice lawsuit was dismissed because the child’s mother is an active duty service member. The family’s goal is to give their child a better future; however, they also hope that their case may benefit other military families. “We’ve reached a point where people can see how unfair this is for children of military families,” said the father of the little girl. “(Our daughter) is the voice of these families.”

Daughter suffers permanent brain damage

In March 2009, a Captain in the U.S. Air Force presented at a Army hospital in Colorado to give birth to her daughter via a planned C-section. The mother had a known allergy to a medication, which was clearly indicated in her medical records. However, despite this, the attending medical staff administered that medication erroneously. The mother suffered an allergic reaction to the medication and was given an antihistamine to counteract it. The antihistamine caused the mother’s blood pressure to drop suddenly and significantly, which deprived her infant daughter of oxygen before the child had been born.

As an alleged result of the medical negligence, the daughter was diagnosed with permanent brain and nerve damage. The girl, who is now six years of age, has to wear special leg braces to walk. She requires occupational and physical therapy every week, and her school must make special accommodations for her.

The military family quickly understood that providing lifelong care for a child with severe disabilities would require considerable financial resources. Like many families in their position, they decided to file a medical malpractice claim to demand compensatory damages for their daughter’s injuries. The District Court dismissed the lawsuit because of the Feres doctrine. The family filed an appeal in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court upheld the dismissal of the case, finding that the daughter’s injuries were directly related to the mother’s injuries. As such, the Feres doctrine applied.

What is the Feres doctrine?

The Feres doctrine is the result of a 1950 lawsuit, Feres v. United States. In ruling on this case, the Supreme Court determined that the Federal Tort Claims Act does not apply to active-duty military personnel. The act allows individuals to sue the U.S. government because of injuries caused by government employees, such as Army hospital employees. Because the appeals court determined that the minor daughter’s injuries stemmed directly from her mother’s injuries, the Feres doctrine applied.

The Feres doctrine has remained a major point of contention among military families and advocates. The family in San Antonio is not the first to attempt to challenge this legal precedent. The Supreme Court has a history of denying petitions filed with regard to the doctrine. However, to date, 10 entities have filed briefs that support the family’s case. Although the chances of creating a different interpretation for the controversial doctrine are slim, military families are still hopeful that they will be able to pursue justice on behalf of their wrongfully injured children.