The "Feres Doctrine" was created by a 1950 U.S. Supreme Court decision that, for the most part, precludes U.S. military service members from pursuing damages for injuries or death caused by non-combat related medical negligence. Unfortunately, this doctrine hits too close to home for one Utahn.
Col. Adele Connell, 57, of Stansbury Park, has been an active member of the military for more than 30 years. She is speaking out now because she does not want other service members to go through what she has for the last eight months. Last November, Connell was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast. The treatment plan included removal of both breasts as well as one lymph node suspected to be involved. A surgeon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center did remove a lymph node on the cancerous left breast but although no cancer was found on the healthy right breast, the surgeon went ahead and erroneously removed 17 additional glands. The result is that Connell is afflicted with lymphedema and she has a compromised immune system.
There is a movement afoot to address what many characterize as an injustice against military service members who do not enjoy the same rights to address acts of medical negligence that the general public and even prison inmates enjoy. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is considering the Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act named for a 28 year old Marine whose developing skin cancer was repeatedly misdiagnosed as a wart. Sgt. Rodriguez died last year.
If passed in its current form, the bill will be retroactive to 1997 which will potentially benefit another Utah family. Alexis Witt is the widow of Sgt. Dean Witt. In 2003, Sgt. Witt was 25 when he developed severe abdominal pains. He was diagnosed with appendicitis and he had his appendix removed in 2003. He was then left in the care of a student nurse and two hospital interns who failed to recognize signs of trouble. His family claims that when problems were identified, the medical staff used improper breathing equipment to help him breathe and that he ended up in a vegetative state. Sgt. Witt died three months later.
Basic notions of fairness dictate that the Feres Doctrine disappear into the annals of military history.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.