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New Measure Would Allow Military Malpractice Lawsuits

After hearing testimony from the victims of military medical negligence, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers announced legislation to do away with the legal rules protecting the Defense Department from medical malpractice lawsuits.

The legislation, called the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 is named for a Green Beret who is fighting stage four lung cancer because of Army doctors’ errors. The legislation would allow malpractice lawsuits against the military by creating an exemption to the Feres Doctrine, a 69-year-old legal precedent barring that legal action.

Critics have called the Feres Doctrine flawed and unfair to military families, but Defense Department officials have said undoing the precedent would upset the current military compensation and benefits system. Lawmakers behind the new legislation said the current system is also unfair, and revictimizes families.

Stayskal said Army doctors missed cancerous tumors on multiple occasions while they still could have been treated. He argued not being able to sue the department takes away impetus for them to take corrective action and barred any chance for his family to become whole.

The legislation would not cover any cases related to combat operations and would only apply to mistakes that occur at major military hospitals and clinics. Medical treatments on ships or battalion aid stations would be excluded.

Plaintiffs bringing lawsuits could not receive compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees would be capped under existing federal laws.

Several Republicans on the armed services panel raised concerns that the topic belongs to the chamber’s judiciary committee but voiced general support for a review of the Feres Doctrine.

Past efforts to amend the legal precedent have run into opposition because of the potential costs facing the military. The new bill would only cover cases filed after implementation and those currently pending, limiting the potential legal exposure for the department. Costs of the plan were not released.

In early July, the House passed its version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, and with it, the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019. Now it needs the Senate’s vote and the president’s signature to become a law.

Source: Military Times

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