In December of 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law. This new law changed a very important aspect of military service for service members throughout the country. Where they were previously barred from filing medical malpractice claims against military medical providers under the Feres Doctrine, the National Defense Authorization Act now allows for the filing of such claims.
The passing of the National Defense Authorization Act certainly provides military families with greater legal freedoms than previously enjoyed, but it is not without its limits. The new law allows for the filing of medical malpractice claims against military medical providers, but there are strict rules for such claims that all military families must recognize. It is also necessary for servicemembers and their families to understand how the new National Defense Authorization Act interacts with the Feres Doctrine, the law which has historically been the barrier to recovery for many service members injured by medical malpractice for more than 80 years.
What Is the Feres Doctrine?
After a group of lawsuits against the federal government in the 1940s, the Feres Doctrine became law and prohibited servicemembers from taking legal action for injuries sustained on and off the battlefield. While those who enlist for military service understand that doing so entails a significant risk to life and limb, many have not expected that they would be left without recourse if they suffer injuries from military medical care providers. The Feres Doctrine decreed that military members could not sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages sustained due to military medical malpractice.
Supporters of the Feres Doctrine commonly argued that the military had provisions in place to protect service members in the event of injuries occurring off the battlefield. Every service member receives free medical care that extends after discharge, and if a service member dies their next of kin receives $100,000 in gratuity, often expanded to $500,000 if the servicemember elected to pay into Servicemembers Group Life Insurance. It’s often argued that these protections and the internal procedures of the US military provide more than enough relief for service members injured both on and off the battlefield, but several recent cases of medical malpractice issues occurring out of combat zones have suggested otherwise.
New Rules for Military Medical Malpractice Claims
First, it’s essential to understand which types of claims are acceptable under the National Defense Authorization Act. A military member cannot file a medical malpractice claim for medical malpractice-related damages sustained in a combat zone, nor can a military member sue for medical malpractice in federal court. The new law requires that all military medical malpractice claims undergo administrative adjudication.
The new law also sets rules based on the amount of a claim. If a claim is valued at $100,000 or less, the final amount is paid directly to the injured service member or their family. If the claim’s value is more than $100,000, the United States Department of the Treasury will independently review it before anything is paid to the service member or their family.
The National Defense Authorization Act provides a two-year statute of limitations for filing medical malpractice claims against military medical providers, and the new law retroactively applies to medical malpractice injuries occurring as far back as 2017. The date of an injury or the date of discovery of an injury from medical malpractice must fall within this designated timeframe to qualify for consideration under the National Defense Authorization Act.
Seeking Legal Counsel for a Claim Under the National Defense Authorization Act
While the National Defense Authorization Act did not overturn the Feres Doctrine, it does provide a workaround for service members injured by medical malpractice while receiving military medical care. The process of pursuing a medical malpractice claim under this new law is relatively the same as it would be for a standard medical malpractice claim. The injured party must prove that the defendant named in their claim did not uphold an acceptable standard of care. Medical malpractice can apply to a misdiagnosis, a delayed diagnosis, a prescription error, a surgical mistake, or any other incident in which a patient suffered injuries due to a preventable error.
Since this new law has just recently taken effect, it’s essential for any service member who believes they have grounds for a claim to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. A personal injury attorney can ensure the claim falls within the acceptable statute of limitations under the National Defense Authorization Act and provide legal guidance throughout the subsequent proceedings.
Due to the stringent rules and regulations attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, it’s essential for anyone who believes they have grounds for a claim under this Act to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Contact Kenneth M. Sigelman & Associates today to schedule a consultation about your military medical malpractice claim.