The Supreme Court refused recently to hear the appeal of a family who had brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Air Force. The Supreme Court upheld the 61-year-old Feres Doctrine in doing so, which is a legal precedent that says that active duty military service members cannot sue the government for medical malpractice.

In this case, the family brought the civil claim against the Air Force on behalf of their family member who was killed when military medical personnel made a series of errors following his routine appendectomy surgery. The Supreme Court chose to not hear the case, but to uphold the Feres Doctrine as the lower courts had before it. The Feres Doctrine was created by the Supreme Court in 1947 and holds that active duty military service members are not protected by the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Measures to allow military service members injured by medical errors to sue the government have been introduced in Congress but have stalled there. People fighting the Feres Doctrine say that military service members should be allowed to sue the government for negligence as can non-military citizens. According to a piece in Stars and Stripes, the family will now push for the changes to the law to occur in Congress, believing that there is a small chance of the Feres Doctrine being overturned by the Supreme Court.

The man was 25 when he died and he had a wife and two young children. The family was suing the Air Force for medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost wages, and the pain and suffering the husband and father suffered.

Source: Stars and Stripes, “Supreme Court deals devastating blow to Feres Doctrine opponents,” Leo Shane III, 27 June 2011