New bipartisan legislation could allow military members the ability to sue military healthcare professionals for medical malpractice. The bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and John Kennedy (R-La.). It seeks to overturn the Feres Doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court decision banning active military members from suing the military or claiming damages for medical malpractice or negligence.
Outdated Law Strips Service Members of Their Rights
The Feres Doctrine states that military members who suffer injury due to another federal employee cannot file a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Several attempts have been made to overturn the Feres Doctrine, but so far, no results. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) sponsored similar legislation in the past, which was included in the annual defense authorization bill.
Supporters of overturning Feres argue that it is outdated and unfair. Rep. Speier, in a floor speech, stated:
“Service members and families have been denied justice in their greatest hour of need… It also means there are not consequences for botched procedures and few incentives for military providers to improve care.”
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calls the matter “short-sighted and unfair.” He was quoted in the Military Times as saying:
“Unfortunate repercussions — denial of relief to military personnel and distortions of other areas of law to compensate — will continue to ripple through our jurisprudence as long as the Court refuses to reconsider (this issue).”
Unfortunately, despite a great deal of support, legislation to overturn Feres continues to stall. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) heartily opposes changing the Feres precedent. Graham continues to stall legislation, and stated he will continue to do so. Graham’s opinion is that changing the precedent will open “Pandora’s box” and cause a flurry of frivolous claims.
Veteran Victim of Medical Malpractice Lobbies Capitol Hill and the White House
This newest legislation is named the SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019. Sgt. Stayskal is battling lung cancer, which was misdiagnosed by Army doctors as pneumonia. In January 2017, Stayskal went to Womack Army Medical Center with difficulty breathing. Doctors did a CT scan, diagnosed him with pneumonia and sent him home.
In May 2017, Stayskal’s breathing troubles worsened and he went to the emergency room. Another CT scan was done, and the doctor compared the two and noted a mass on the Jan CT scan. Medical records show a recommendation for a biopsy, but doctors did not tell Stayskal.
In June 2017, a civilian doctor diagnosed Stayskal with stage IV lung cancer. By this time, the original tumor was twice the size as it was in January, and the cancer has spread to other organs. While it is clear that the Army doctors were negligent, Stayskal cannot sue them or the hospital because of the Feres Doctrine.
Without knowledge or a diagnosis, Stayskal did not receive cancer treatments, which could have improved his prognosis. Instead, he is fighting for his life. You can learn more about the Stayskal family and how this is impacting them by watching this video.
Now, Stayskal is lobbying on Capitol Hill, and has asked President Trump for support. Stayskal had a meeting with President Trump about the Act, which Vice President Mike Pence suggested was positive. He is undergoing clinical trials and other treatment options while lobbying for the rights of other members of the military. Stayskal says his goal is,
“not convincing them, but showing them that this should be done because it’s the right thing to do.”
Why Military Members Should Call a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
There is no question that legal claims against the military or its employees are challenging. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. With legislation attempting to overturn the Feres Doctrine, it is important for injured military members to speak up if they experience medical malpractice. Every voice counts and can certainly make a difference.
If you are a military member and victim of medical malpractice, contact Brown, Christie & Green to find out more about your legal rights. Our team helps military members understand and protect their legal rights. Furthermore, we help victims of medical malpractice determine what options they may have for malpractice, negligence, and VA claims.
To find out more about your options, you can request a free consultation by calling 1-800-600-4210. You can also fill out our online contact form. We proudly serve clients in Texas and Louisiana, with convenient office locations in Houston, Dallas, and Brownsville