Federal Appellate Court Finds that the Feres Doctrine Bars Medical Malpractice Liability

Recently, a federal appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a lawsuit filed by the husband of a Navy lieutenant who died following complications from childbirth. The husband filed a lawsuit alleging that his wife’s death was caused by the negligence of the medical staff at a naval hospital. Ultimately, the court reluctantly affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit, based on the oft-criticized Feres doctrine.

The Facts of the Case

In 2013, a Navy lieutenant resigned from her position after she and her husband learned that they were expecting a child. Sadly, even though the woman’s pregnancy was normal, she died from severe hemorrhaging about four hours after her daughter’s delivery.

The Procedural Posture

Following the woman’s tragic death, her husband filed a lawsuit alleging that the hospital was negligent in their treatment of his wife and that their negligence resulted in her wrongful death. The district court dismissed the lawsuit based on the Feres doctrine.

The Feres Doctrine

In response to the restrictiveness of sovereign immunity, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) was enacted. This statute allows some private individuals to sue the United States government for certain torts, if they are committed by people acting on behalf of the government. However, shortly after the FTCA was enacted, the Supreme Court affirmed that the FTCA does not waive sovereign immunity in cases in which service members are injured while they are engaged in activities related to their service.

Determining whether an injury occurred “incident to service” involves an analysis of four factors, including:

  • Where the act occurred,
  • The status of the plaintiff,
  • Benefits accruing to the plaintiff, and
  • The plaintiff’s activities during the negligence.

Historically, if a negligent act occurs at a military medical facility, that claim will be barred. The plaintiff in this case argued that his wife was not being treated for any condition incident to her service. The appellate court agreed that it nevertheless had to abide by case law and affirm the decision.

Future of the Feres Doctrine

The appellate court opinion makes clear that the Feres doctrine has led some courts to issue rulings that are seemingly unfair. Many courts have regretfully issued decisions because the judges feel shackled to current case law. The Feres doctrine has led to many plaintiffs being left without any recourse when their injuries are clearly a result of someone else’s negligence. Although courts are quick to shift blame to previous case law, it is clear that they understand the imbalanced nature of the law. With decisions such as the one in the tragic case above, it is only a matter of time before the efficacy of the Feres doctrine is considered by the United States Supreme Court or re-evaluated by Congress.

Have You Been Injured Because of Negligent Medical Treatment?

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries or death because of negligent medical treatment, you should contact one of the dedicated and experienced attorneys at the law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank. Florida medical malpractice cases often involve complex legal theories that are best handled by an experienced attorney. The attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank are skilled at handling Florida medical malpractice lawsuits and can assist you in pursuing the compensation you deserve. Contact the law firm today at 877-448-8585 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court Rejects Underinsured Motorist Claim Following Horse-Drawn Carriage Accident, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 19, 2017.

Court Dismisses Slip-and-Fall Case Based on Plaintiff’s Failure to Provide Specific Location of Injury, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 4, 2018.

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