Most patients have a legal right to bring action against doctors and other medical professionals for medical malpractice. When a doctor fails to provide a patient a certain accepted standard of care, and that failure leads to harm, the doctor may be found liable. Victims can sue for justice and to recover damages. One group of people, however, has long been excluded from this right: men and women serving in the military. After decades, this has finally changed.
Banning Military Medical Malpractice
Malpractice lawsuits are important for holding medical professionals accountable for their mistakes and negligence. They help ensure higher standards of care for patients and provide individuals harmed by negligence a way to get compensation for medical bills and other related expenses.
Since 1946, service men and women have had only very limited rights to sue and recover damages from the government or military. In 1950, a serviceman named Feres challenged the limitations. He suffered harm after radioactive materials were exposed during a plane crash. His case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided against his ability to collect damages from the government. This set a precedent and essentially a ban on military members suing for medical malpractice. It is known as the Feres Doctrine.
Challenging the Law
In recent years several service members have come forward to challenge the Feres Doctrine. Richard Stayskal, a Special Forces diver and Green Beret suffered damage in his chest from a bullet wound. A lung scan in 2017 was supposed to determine the extent of the damage and if it would limit his diving.
Stayskal’s military doctors failed to notice on the scans the presence of a significant tumor. Several months after the scan he was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer after a trip to the emergency room. His cancer is now considered terminal, but if those doctors had caught the cancer sooner, he believes it would have been treatable.
Stayskal decided to challenge the Feres doctrine and testified before Congress. Lawmakers drafted a bill to change the law called the SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act. The bill was put into the military budget, hoping it would get passed and signed into law more easily.
The Stayskal Act Passed
The strategy proved successful, and the act is now law. It allows service men and women to sue government doctors, medical facilities, and the military over medical malpractice. Stayskal and his lawyers filed a suit within days of the act’s passage.
The law has its limits, but service members who have been harmed are hopeful. Right now the law provides the Defense Department with $400 million to investigate cases and make appropriate payouts. The cases are limited to non-combat situations.
Anyone who has suffered harm because of preventable mistakes made by the medical professionals they trusted should be able to sue for justice. Now this previously overlooked group also has that right. If you have been harmed by medical malpractice through the military, contact a lawyer with experience in malpractice and military cases.