The United States Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving a former soldier who suffered severe brain damage due to a surgical error that occurred during a routine procedure performed at a military hospital. The soldier was admitted for appendicitis. However, when he stopped breathing while an appendectomy was being performed the staff inserted a breathing tube into the esophagus rather than the trachea.
Medical malpractice essentially left this soldier brain-dead. The reason why his brain injury case was turned down by the court is because of the so-called Feres Doctrine ruling that the federal government cannot be held liable for injuries that occurred during the course of military duty. Unfortunately, such a doctrine has also been expanded into the area of medical malpractice as well.
Such cases and many others demonstrate the difficulties for attorneys and their clients in bringing medical malpractice lawsuits. Though an individual such as the one mentioned above undoubtedly had his life completely altered due to possible negligence on the part of the medical staff, legislatures, courts and medical lobbying groups have placed obstacles in the way of recovery. Attorneys experienced in the area of medical malpractice will nevertheless do what they can to negotiate a recovery for victims of such negligence.
The Feres Doctrine has often been criticized as a way out for medical professionals that have committed negligence. It is bad enough that such negligence even takes place as injuries due to medical malpractice are almost always severe or life threatening. But the fact that Pennsylvania and other American soldiers have limited means of recovery for such negligence seems unconscionable.
Source: Air Force Times, "Disabled airman sues government over surgery," by Kristin Davis, April 9, 2012