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Congress considers ending military malpractice immunity

Three U.S. Supreme Court cases from 1950 blocked lawsuits against the military for medical negligence. However, Congress is now considering legislation that would allow service members to sue the federal government for medical malpractice committed by military doctors and facilities.

In three separate opinions, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows citizens to sue the government for wrongdoing by its employees or agencies, did not cover most service personnel who suffer injuries from the negligence of other members of the military. The Court reasoned that its ruling ensured that Congress was not burdened with the private bills of military personnel.

Critics claimed that the compensation provided to troops and their families following a major military medical error was insufficient to care for seriously injured or ill troops or to provide for their families when they die. In cases issued since 1950, however, the Court said that military members could sue only if Congress changed the law. Last month, it refused to hear a case challenging its original ruling.

The House is considering the Sgt. First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act, which is named after an Army Green Beret and former Marine who has terminal lung cancer. It was claimed that there was a missed diagnosis because military physicians did not follow-up on a suspicious mass that was found during his pre-training medical screening.

The Senate is considering an amendment to its proposed defense policy bill that would permit service members to file injury or death claims for improper medical or dental care. It would also cover research studies at a military medical facility. The House and Senate bills would apply to any claims pending on the date it becomes law and any claims arising afterward.

Medical malpractice victims and their families may be able to seek compensation. An attorney can help review and pursue their rights.

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