Historically, members of the military were unable to file a medical malpractice claim against the federal government when they were a victim of negligence. This is largely due to the fact that nearly all governments have immunity from civil lawsuits. More specifically, it has to do with the Feres Doctrine.
The Feres Doctrine is named after three different cases of military medical malpractice heard by the Supreme Court in 1950. Once the case was decided on, it was determined that any service member was barred from filing a medical malpractice claim against the federal government.
Now, however, a new proposal to the 2020 defense budget bill might allow service members or their families to take action by filing a claim with the Secretary of Defense. If accepted, these claims would allow service members to collect compensation for their injuries.
In mid-December, the House of Representatives approved the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Under this bill, military members can file a claim for review if they believe they were the victims of medical malpractice. Of course, like any civil action, it does not necessarily mean that they will be successful in their claim. Currently, only medical malpractice claims are included in the National Defense Authorization Act, although that does cover not only medical treatment, but also dental treatment and other related healthcare.
The National Defense Authorization Act also states that an attorney’s fees cannot exceed 20 percent of any compensation awarded. The Department of Defense is also not liable for those fees, meaning that anyone filing a claim would be responsible for paying the associated expenses.
This National Defense Authorization Act might prove to be helpful for service members that are victims of medical malpractice in the future, as well as for any member that was a victim after January, 2017.