Rebekah “Moani” Daniel was a labor and delivery nurse at the Naval Hospital Bremerton. When it came time to give birth herself, she arranged to do so at that same military hospital. Shockingly, the 33-year-old servicemember bled to death shortly after delivering her daughter, Victoria.
Her husband, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Walter Daniel, believed the postpartum hemorrhaging which caused her death could have been prevented if staff had followed standards of care (defined as what reasonably competent medical professionals would have done if placed in that situation).
The FTCA allows people such as veterans and military spouses to sue the federal government for acts of malpractice committed in military-run hospitals (it also enables family members to sue on their behalf, for example in the case of wrongful death). However, under the Feres Doctrine, “active duty” military services members cannot sue for their own injuries, nor can family members sue on their behalf (1). There is a certain degree of risk inherent to military service, and the Feres Doctrine aims to prevent claims based on injuries or harm that occurs “in the course of activity incident to service.” However, it has since been interpreted very broadly, and has prevented legal recourse for active-duty service members, even when the care they were receiving was routine/had nothing to do with a military injury (2, 3). Since Rebekah was employed by a military hospital at the time of her death, she was considered active duty, and therefore her husband could not sue on her behalf.
The Feres Doctrine has been widely criticized; many see it as a justification for flagrant acts of negligence. As put in a Change.org petition, signed by over 100,000 people, “Why should soldiers be denied recourse just because they are on active duty if they are injured or killed while getting ordinary (non-combat-related) medical care?” The petition goes on to state that, “Without a change, military hospitals have no incentive to improve their practices and discharge unqualified doctors” (4).
Lt. Commander Daniel felt similarly, and asked the Supreme Court to consider his wife’s wrongful death case. In the petition, his lawyer (Andrew Hoyal) emphasized that Rebekah Daniel’s death was simply the result of inadequate medical care, and not related to military combat or other job-related hazards. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court declined to hear it (5).
Daniel expressed his disappointment, saying,“Sadly, the justice system remains closed to our family, our colleagues, and the families who commit their lives to military service. Victoria and I won’t have the opportunity to learn what led to Moani’s [Rebekah’s] death, and to ensure others don’t experience the same tragedy” (2).
The answer may lie with Congress
Although the Supreme Court has refused to reconsider the Feres Doctrine, there is still hope for change. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering legislation that would enable active duty personnel to sue for malpractice (or for family members to do so on their behalf).
Representative Jackie Speier, D-California, introduced the “Sgt. First Class (SFC) Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act” to the House in April. This bill is named after a veteran who has terminal cancer. Even though military doctors found a mass in Stayskal’s lung, they failed to inform him, and now it is too late for him to receive life-saving treatment (1). (The last bill to challenge Feres’ role in medical malpractice involved a similar case; the 2010 “Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Malpractice Accountability Act,” was named for a Marine sergeant who died from melanoma after doctors diagnosed it but failed to inform him .)
You can follow the progress of the SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act here.
Senator John Kennedy, R-Louisiana has also introduced an amendment (to a proposed defense policy bill) that would also overturn the prohibition on malpractice suits (1, 6). Under his amendment, military personnel and family members could sue, so long as the care they received was not in a combat zone, a field facility, or a battalion aid station.
To learn more about the Feres Doctrine and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), particularly as they relate to birth injury litigation (our malpractice firm’s area of focus), check out the following pages:
About ABC Law Centers
ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. This includes issues such as oxygen deprivation, infection, and trauma. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities.
If a birth injury/subsequent disability could have been prevented with proper care, then it constitutes medical malpractice. Settlements from birth injury cases can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, educational resources, and more.
If you believe you may have a birth injury case for your child, please contact us today to learn more. We are happy to talk to you free of any obligation or charge. In fact, clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win.
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- Service members may soon be able to sue the government for medical malpractice. (2019, June 19). Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://connectingvets.radio.com/articles/feres-doctrine-senator-kennedy-joins-effort-allow-military-sue-malpractice
- Grisales, C. (n.d.). Supreme Court declines to hear case to allow military medical malpractice lawsuits. Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www.stripes.com/supreme-court-declines-to-hear-case-to-allow-military-medical-malpractice-lawsuits-1.581863
- Military Medical Malpractice. (n.d.). Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www.justia.com/injury/medical-malpractice/military-medical-malpractice/
- Sign the Petition. (n.d.). Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www.change.org/p/support-our-troops-amend-the-feres-doctrine
- Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge to Feres Doctrine, which blocks service member malpractice suits. (2019, May 20). Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://connectingvets.radio.com/articles/supreme-court-denies-review-feres-doctrine-challenge
- Kime, P. (2019, June 19). The push to finally allow troops to sue the military over medical malpractice just got a major boost in Congress. Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://taskandpurpose.com/john-kennedy-feres-doctrine-senate-bill