House panel votes to overturn Feres doctrine

By William H. McMichael – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Oct 7, 2009 17:42:11 EDT

A bill that would overturn a 59-year-old Supreme Court decision that bars service members from suing the government for peacetime medical malpractice narrowly passed a House Judiciary Committee vote Wednesday and now will be considered by the entire House.  The Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is named for a Marine Corps sergeant who died in 2007 at age 29 from melanoma. The condition was correctly diagnosed 10 years earlier, but the doctor failed to tell Rodriguez or refer him for treatment. Years later, another military doctor said the growth was a birthmark.  The Rodriguez family could find no relief in the courts. A 1950 Supreme Court decision that became known as the Feres doctrine prohobits active-duty members from holding the government accountable for medical negligence.  In some states, service members and their families can sue the government for malpractice committed on a military family member under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Federal prisoners also can sue the government for negligence.  Hinchey hailed the committee vote.


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