Here’s Your “Augh!” Moment for the Day

In Feres v. United States, one military servicemember (Jefferson) and the estates of two dead servicemembers (Feres and Griggs) sued the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, claiming that DoD negligence caused death/injury.

In Jefferson’s case, he’d had surgery at an Army hospital. He had complications afterward, and doctors decided he needed a second surgery.

During the second surgery, “a towel 30 inches long by 18 inches wide, marked ‘Medical Department U.S. Army,’ was discovered and removed from his stomach.”

Jefferson sued, claiming that the Army doctor who did the first surgery was negligent in leaving the towel behind (ya think?).

The Supreme Court, apparently much less grossed out by this than I was, ruled that the Federal Tort Claims Act does not cover injuries related to military service – including medical malpractice in military hospitals.

Apparently the court decided instead “to cast upon Congress…the task of qualifying and clarifying its language.” In other words, if the Federal Tort Claims Act is supposed to let soldiers sue for negligence suffered while on duty, Congress needs to say so.

Congress did eventually say so…69 years later.

(Since then, 448 negligence claims have been filed; over 25 percent have been denied, 2 percent have been settled, and a few more have gone to trial.)

From 1950 to 2019, though, soldiers couldn’t sue the DoD or the federal government for negligence related to their service if they were injured. Not even if an Army doctor left AN ENTIRE HAND TOWEL INSIDE A VITAL ORGAN.

Vote the way Citizens United asked us to: buy me a coffee if you were interested enough to read this far.