Veterans and military families who oppose a law that has shielded military medical personnel from malpractice lawsuits for nearly 60 years are supporting a case they consider the best opportunity to overturn the unpopular provision, reports the Insurance Journal.
The future of the shield law--the Feres Doctrine--depends on whether the U.S. Supreme Court decides to review the case of former Air Force Sergeant Dean Patrick Witt, who died after a nurse put a tube down the wrong part of his throat during a routine appendectomy.
The nurse admitted her mistake and forfeited her state license, but federal courts rejected the legal claim by Witt's widow, on account of the Feres Doctrine, notes the Insurance Journal.
Witt's family appealed, hoping to help other servicemen and women who get hurt in military hospitals effectively seek redress. "We labored on this for a long, long time, and we decided that the right thing to do here was to protect the rights of other people who go into the military and are signing away their rights to get good health care in the military system," Witt's brother-in-law, Carlos Lopez, told the Insurance Journal. "So we're hoping, we're praying, that his case could be the one that changes everything."
If this is the case that leads to changing the law, the federal government may end up facing billions of dollars in liability claims. Moreover, critics warn that in addition to increased costs for the government, opening up the military to malpractice lawsuits would benefit trial lawyers more than the military families, notes the Insurance Journal.
However, activists for the Witt case maintain that overturning the shield law will lead to better care in military hospitals.