The Feres Doctrine was established to prevent military personnel from filing claims against the federal government for injuries suffered “incident to military service.” The doctrine was created in 1950 because of the case of Feres v. United States. In the case, a solider perished when his barracks caught on fire because of a defective heating system. The executor of the soldier’s estate alleged that the federal government knew about the defective heating unit and failed to fix the problem which ultimately led to the fire and soldier’s death.
The executor tried to file the claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 which allows individuals negligently harmed by a government employee to file a lawsuit for damages. However, the Supreme Court rejected the claim based on two primary points: the relationship between the government and military personnel was “distinctively federal in character” and Congress had created a no-fault compensation plan to provide pensions for injured military servicemembers. Thus far, the Supreme Court has rejected efforts to over-rule the decision.
The case of Navy Lt. Rebekah Daniel
On March 9, 2014, Navy Lt. Rebekah Daniel went into labor at a Washington state military hospital. Hours later, she bled to death during what should have been a low-risk and routine delivery. Rebekah was a healthy 33 year-old woman and there were no indications that she had any ailments that might have led to her death. Because of the Feres Doctrine, her husband is left without a wife and is unable to file a civil claim for compensation. He cannot file a medical malpractice claim and he has never received any answers about what happened that day.
Feres doctrine should be altered to allow for medical malpractice claims
Using the phrase “incident to service,” the Feres Doctrine is able to deny compensation to many military service members unfairly. The term covers a wide range of cases including those related to sexual harassment, wrongful death, personal injury, and medical malpractice. In Rebekah’s case, her family was denied the right to file a claim simply because she was a military service member and was treated at a military hospital.
Dated and unfair, many important figures have criticized the government’s adherence to the doctrine:
- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.”
- Justice Clarence Thomas — “I tend to agree with Justice Scalia that ‘Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.’ At a bare minimum, it should be reconsidered.”
- United States District Court Judge John A. Mendez — Referred to the doctrine as “wrong-headed and irrational.”
At the very least, the doctrine should be altered to allow medical malpractice victims and their families the right to file a civil claim for compensation.
Compassionate medical malpractice attorneys ready to fight for you
Steadfast and determined, the lawyers at the Bertling Law Group are fierce advocates of medical malpractice victims in Santa Barbara and across the country. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with a dedicated injury attorney today, contact us at 844-295-7558.