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Possible Change For The Long-Standing Feres Doctrine

Trigger Warning: The following contains discussion of families who have lost pregnant mothers during childbirth.

Two Births, Two Outcomes.

Consider this hypothetical scenario: There are two military families.  In each, one partner is a member of the military, and the other partner is a civilian. In each, one mother is having a baby in a military hospital.  They both are having their babies on the same day in the same military hospital. Also, tragically, in each case, the mother dies from hemorrhaging during childbirth. And in each case, the mother may have been saved, but for the negligence of the doctors involved.

These deliveries differ because in one couple, the mother is a servicemember, and in the other, the mother is a civilian. In one of these, the United States cannot be found liable for medical malpractice, and, in the other, they may. Can you guess which is which? You might be surprised to learn that if the mother who died was the servicemember, the United States cannot be found liable for her death.

Though this scenario is hypothetical, it is based on a real case which might soon be heard by the United States Supreme Court: Daniel v. U.S., case number 18-460. This case has the potential to change the scenario above for the better.

See more about the case here:

The Feres Doctrine: Preventing Servicemembers from Suing the Military

For decades, one court decision has prevented members of our military from suing military doctors for medical malpractice. It's called the Feres doctrine, named after a Supreme Court case from 1950.  The Feres doctrine prohibits claims of personal injury arising from activities found to be "incidental to military service." Medical care of servicemembers has long been considered "incidental to military service," and medical malpractice cases have been barred.

In Daniel v. U.S., a Navy officer died during childbirth and her husband brought a claim against the United States. Because of the Feres doctrine, the lower court dismissed the case, and Mr. Daniel appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who affirmed that dismissal.  The appeals court said, "As we have done many times before, we regretfully reach the conclusion that his claims are barred by the Feres doctrine and, therefore, affirm." Daniel v. United States, 889 F.3d 978 (9th Cir. 2018).

Mr. Daniel, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who could change their previous decisions. They could decide that some medical care is not "incidental to military service," and therefore personal injuries arising out of that care are not barred by the Feres doctrine.  That would mean that Mr. Daniel would be allowed to bring his claim for the death of his wife.

However, the Supreme Court has not yet decided whether they will even hear the Daniel case or not. The attorneys for the government have asked the Supreme Court not to hear it, arguing that the Court long ago decided the issue.  If the Supreme Court does not hear the case, then the lower court's dismissal will be upheld and the ban on servicemembers bringing claims against the military for medical malpractice will remain.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, they could allow these types of claims. That would mean that many servicemembers who have been prevented from bringing what would otherwise be legitimate claims against military healthcare providers would finally be allowed to bring their claims.

Rawls Law Group Now Taking Cases of Servicemembers Were Harmed by Medical Malpractice by Military Care Providers.

At Rawls Law Group, we have focused on helping people who have been harmed by medical care providers within the V.A. and the military, but we have been tragically unable to lift a finger to help those who were members of the military  when they were harmed.

Some of us here at Rawls Law Group are veterans and, though this is a business, it is also more for us. We are dedicated to helping our servicemembers and veterans, and the Feres doctrine has frustratingly prevented us from taking some of these cases.  Daniel v. U.S. is a significant case and provides some hope. 

We are therefore now taking medical malpractice cases that might otherwise be barred by the Feres Doctrine.

So, if you were harmed by military doctors while you were a servicemember, contact us as soon as possible and let us determine if we might be able to help.


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