Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines face many dangers that civilians don’t. But one risk that those in uniform share with everyone else is the risk of injury or death due to medical malpractice. Until recently, active duty service members who were victims of medical errors at military hospitals and other facilities did not share the same rights as their civilian counterparts to seek compensation for their losses. That changed on December 20, 2019, when the National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law, allowing active duty military personnel and their families to file claims for personal injuries or wrongful deaths caused by military medical providers.
70-Year Wait Is Over for Military Malpractice Victims
In 1950, the Supreme Court held in Feres v. United States that active duty servicemembers could not seek compensation from the federal government for personal injuries that they suffered “incident to service,” including injuries that were the result of medical malpractice by military personnel or at military facilities.
While the new law does not overturn the “Feres Doctrine,” it does add a provision to the Military Claims Act that allows active duty service members to bring medical malpractice claims against the Department of Defense (DOD) for medical mistakes committed by a uniformed or civilian DOD healthcare employee at a military treatment facility.
No Access to Federal Court, But New Ability to Obtain Compensation
While active duty service members can’t file civil suits in federal court for their medical malpractice claims, nor can they file claims based on alleged malpractice committed in a combat zone, it does, at last, provide an avenue for active duty personnel to obtain compensation for their injuries. Specifically, the law:
- Creates an administrative claims process to allow active duty military to receive compensation when they are injured and killed by medical malpractice in military treatment facilities.
- Allows active duty service members to receive uncapped economic and non-economic damages for their medical malpractice losses.
- Provides the DOD with authority to create policies and procedures for processing the claims and the power to develop uniform standards for medical malpractice claims.
- Gives victims two years after the date of injury to file a claim, although those whose injuries occurred in 2017 or earlier have no ability to seek compensation.
While not going as far as advocates would have liked, the new law is a huge step forward for service members who signed up to risk their lives on the battlefield, but not at the hands of a negligent doctor or other healthcare provider.
Speak With a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today
If you suffered injuries or losses due to a medical error while on active duty or if you lost a family member who was serving, you now can file a medical malpractice claim and obtain significant compensation. The medical malpractice lawyers of Sommers Schwartz can thoroughly investigate the situation, uncover the truth, and pursue damages for your losses.
Please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group for a free consultation to review your case.