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Can You Sue A Military Hospital For A Birth Injury?

Going through even a routine pregnancy can leave you wracked with worry or guilt about the food and drink you consume, the stress you're under, or even the amount of sleep you're getting and its impact on your unborn child. For those who do their best to engage in healthy behaviors throughout pregnancy, making it to the end of a pregnancy uneventfully only to have your infant suffer brain damage or other birth complications due to medical malpractice can be especially heartbreaking. Unfortunately, if you're an active-duty military member whose child's birth injury occurred at a military hospital, you may be prevented from suing the doctor or hospital for malpractice related to this injury. Read on to learn more about this law, as well as how a challenge could help change the way these cases are handled.

Why aren't military members allowed to sue military hospitals for malpractice?

Certain governmental groups, agencies, and affiliates are exempted from civil suit under a process called immunity. For example, if a judge makes a mistake in your case that costs you a significant amount of money, you're not permitted to personally sue this judge for the damages you've suffered -- even if the mistake was due to negligence. (On the other hand, you may be able to successfully sue the city, county, or state governmental entity that employed the judge.)

Military doctors are included in this immunity exemption when working on active duty members -- under a legal precedent known as the Feres doctrine, active duty military members aren't permitted to sue the government (including military hospitals and their employees) for any injuries suffered incident to their military service. As a result, those who are injured by negligent or reckless behavior on the part of their military physician have little recourse under federal or state law. 

What changes could be coming to this doctrine?

The U.S. Supreme Court has been petitioned to hear a recently-decided case involving a child whose birth defects were due to injuries the mother sustained during labor after being administered a medication to which she was allergic. In this case, the trial court found (and appellate court confirmed) that the Feres doctrine applied to the daughter's injuries. This decision effectively prevented the daughter from being compensated for the doctor's negligence. 

If the Supreme Court elects to heart argument in this case, it's possible the Feres doctrine will be restricted to only prevent lawsuits stemming from active duty deaths and injuries, rather than those taking place stateside (like childbirth and non-combat related medical issues).

If your child was harmed due to a birth injury, talk to an attorney, like the ones at Snyder & Wenner, P.C., about your legal recourse.