The Feres Doctrine is a legal precedent from a 1950 United States Supreme Court decision in which the Court ruled that service members injured in the course of their duties are prohibited from suing the government or any government employee. This Doctrine is the reason why military operating rooms are more dangerous than private operating rooms. For example, the incidence of foreign objects such as sponges, towels, or instruments being left inside the bodies of surgical patients has gone way down to negligible numbers in private hospitals. The reason is because in response to medical malpractice lawsuits, hospitals and surgical staffs instituted standard operationg procedures to count the sponges, towels, and instruments prior to the procedure and before closing the surgical incision. This simple solution has not been adopted in many military hospitals, and, not surprisingly, the problem persists in military operating rooms. The brave men and women who serve our country are the ones who suffer as a result.
The good news is that Representative Maurice Hinchey and Senator Charles Schumer have each sponsored bills to pass the Military Medical Accountability Act which would permit service members to sue the government in certain cases of medical malpractice. The Hinchey Bill was approved on October 7th by the House Judiciary Committee, and would legislatively overturn Feres v. United States. Hinchey named his bill the Carmelo Rodriquez Military Medical Accountability Act of 2009 after the late Sgt. Rodriquez, a marine who served in Iraq and died in 2007 at the age of 29 after a series of extraordinary mistakes and misdiagnoses made by military medical personnel.
Sgt. Rodriquez had a bleeding melanoma which the military doctors continuously misdiagnosed as a birth mark or wart. The one military doctor who correctly diagnosed the melanoma failed to tell Rodriquez the diagnosis or refer him to a cancer specialists. As the skin cancer worsened, Rodriquez’s family was unable to get his medical reocrds from the military to give to private doctors for a second opinion. The family went to Rep. Hinchey for help, but it was too late. Sgt. Rodriquez had gone from 190 lbs. to less than 80 lbs.
This bill needs to pass so that our troops have the same rights that we all have under the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution to a trial by jury.