The US Supreme Court is considering whether to hear a case that could potentially lift the ban on military personnel suing the federal government in medical malpractice cases. The case involves a former US Air Force Sergeant Dean Patrick Witt who was removed from life support in 2003 after a botched anesthesia procedure that left him brain dead. He died on January 9, 2004.
For the past 60 years, military personnel have been prevented from filing medical malpractice lawsuits because of the Feres Doctrine, a precedent that originated from a 1950 court case that ruled military medical mistakes were the same as battlefield injuries, making the armed services immune from civil litigation.
According to an Associated Press report, “The Feres ruling grew out of the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, which allowed lawsuits against the government for negligent acts under certain circumstances. Initially the law was interpreted to forbid lawsuits by military personnel and their families only for combat-related injuries and deaths, but the decision in Feres vs. United States — involving a soldier who died in a barracks fire — widened that exclusion to bar any lawsuits over injuries “incident to military service.”
The Witt case has intensified the debate and galvanized military families who support a change in the law.
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