What is the Feres Doctrine, and what does it mean for my case?
In 1950, the case of Feres v. United States established that the US is not liable (under the Federal Tort Claims Act) for injuries to military service members sustained while on active duty.
Members of the Armed Forces are barred from suing the United States government for personal injuries, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and loss of consortium – leaving some veterans and their families with large medical bills, permanent disabilities, and other damages that are never compensated for except through VA disability payments and veteran medical care. To learn more about why this is, we turn to the Feres Doctrine.
What is the Feres Doctrine?
In 1950, the United States faced three similar lawsuits from active duty military men – two regarding wrongful death and one regarding medical malpractice. The Supreme Court combined these three cases and ruled that the United States was not liable for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act and prevented soldiers from filing similar claims in the future.
The three cases which were combined into Feres v. United States were:
- The Feres case, in which a soldier was killed in a barracks fire while on active duty. The lawsuit claimed that the military housed him somewhere known to be unsafe and did not keep an adequate fire watch.
- The Jefferson case, in which an Army man had abdominal surgery at a military hospital while on active duty. Eight months after the surgery, and complaining of pain, the man had another surgery in which doctors found a large towel in his stomach with the words “Medical Department U.S. Army” written on it. His medical malpractice case was dismissed.
- The Griggs case, in which an active duty serviceman lost his life during a surgery at a military hospital. His family believed his death should have been prevented and that the surgeon was negligent.
Challenges to the Feres Doctrine
In 2011, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Staff Sergeant Dean Witt, an airman who entered a vegetative state during a 2003 appendectomy and was taken off of life support by his family three months later. An investigation revealed that the man went without oxygen for almost ten minutes during the surgery, leaving him with severe brain damage.
In 2012, another airman who received care at the same facility filed an injury lawsuit against the federal government and challenged the Feres Doctrine. Retired Texas Airman Colton Read claims that mistakes made during his gall bladder surgery led to the amputation of his legs. The U.S. government asked a federal judge to dismiss the case.
In 2001, Lance Corporal Aaron Schoenfeld lost his leg in an auto accident. The vehicle he was a passenger in had crashed into a previously damaged, but unrepaired guardrail on a military base. While the court initially threw out the case due to the Feres Doctrine, Schoenfeld won his appeal in 2007 and the case was allowed to move forward. The appeals court said that due to the location and nature of his injury (Schoenfeld was doing what any member of the public could have done at the time), the Feres Doctrine did not apply.
The truth is that every case is different. In order to get a good idea of the strength of your potential case, you need to consult with a personal injury lawyer. Most every personal injury attorney offers free consultations, so there is no harm in at least getting some free advice.
Would you like to speak to our lawyers about your case?
If you’re a service member who’s been injured due to (or during the course of) active duty, call us and have us look into the facts of your case. We can explain your legal options for no cost. Call Rasansky Law Firm today at 1-877-405-4313.
Speak With a Dallas Personal Injury Attorney For Free
The attorneys at Rasansky Law Firm are happy to speak to you about your potential case free of charge. If we can help with your claim, we’ll do so for no out-of-pocket cost to you. Call us 24/7 at (214) 651-6100, or toll-free at 1-877-405-4313.