Senator John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) reached across the aisle to draft a new bill aimed at giving service members the ability to file lawsuits against the United States government on the basis of medical malpractice. Until now, it has been nearly impossible for service members to recover damages because of negligence by doctors or medical care practitioners who work for the federal government.
A similar version of the bill was also introduced into the House of Representatives in early 2019. Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) and Representative Richard Hudson (R-North Carolina) also reached across the aisle to make it happen.
The SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 would provide the grounds for medical malpractice lawsuits stemming from care received in facilities outside of designated combat zones around the world.
Until the new legislation passes successfully through Congress, service members are still prevented from lodging lawsuits against the federal government because of the Feres Doctrine. The Supreme Court heard Feres v. United States in 1950, ruling that the U.S. government was not liable for any claims made by service members who were injured or killed in the line of duty – even when injuries were exacerbated by negligence due to the actions of other trained personnel who worked for the armed forces.
The Feres Doctrine effectively prevents family members of deceased service members from suing on the grounds of wrongful death as well. Exceptions to the Feres Doctrine are rarely made.
The new bill could go into effect as soon as 2020, when the new defense budget bill might include it as an amendment.
It should be noted, of course, that the bill does not allow for medical malpractice lawsuits to be lodged against the government in situations where service members were injured or killed by medical personnel operating within designated combat zones – only outside.
The bill reads: “A claim may be brought against the United States under this chapter for damages for personal injury or death of a member of the Armed Forces arising out of a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the performance of medical, dental, or related health care functions (including clinical studies and investigations) that is provided at a covered military medical treatment facility by a person within the scope of the office or employment of that person by or at the direction of the Government of the United States.”
The bill was named for Army Green Beret Richard Stayskal.