Medical malpractice and deaths related to negligent and reckless medical care have been on the rise, and civilians are not the only ones susceptible. Military men and women also deal with innumerable instances of medical malpractice at their own military hospitals. What is more frightening is the fact that they are receiving even worse care than the average citizen.
A Typical Case
In 2010, 21-year-old old Jessica Zeppa was five-months pregnant when she showed up four times to the Reynolds Army Community Hospital in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. She was weak, in pain, could barely swallow, and was fighting a severe fever. The nurses sent her home with an appointment to get her wisdom teeth removed.
The next day, Mrs. Zeppa, wife of soldier James Zeppa, returned to the hospital again, this time in the back of an ambulance. After being airlifted to a civilian hospital, she suffered a miscarriage and died of complications from severe sepsis that spread throughout her entire body. Medical experts who were later hired by her family said she most likely would have survived had the medical staff at the hospital properly diagnosed and treated her at the time.
Even though errors like this happen in the best hospitals in the nation, recent studies done by The New York Times suggest that the military hospitals dramatically lag behind their civilian counterparts in protecting their patients from harm. Why has this become the norm for military hospitals, where servicemembers should expect highly-trained staff to perform above par? As it turns out, there is no shortage of issues compromising the care of military personnel and their families.
The Issues Affecting Quality of Care
In March 2016, John Basil Utley wrote in an article for The American Conservative about just a few of the problems that hinder patients from getting the best medical care. He said problems are caused by the “rigid military system, with hospitals getting a new commander every two years, hurting continuity and institutional memory.” He also referred to The New York Times, which stated, “half the beds in military hospitals sit idle. Two-thirds served less than 30 patients a day, about a third of the typical civilian hospital. Half of the hospitals have higher than expected rates of surgical complications, including 95 percent higher trauma to infants during birth compared to civilian hospitals.”
With these gross records of how incompetent military hospitals can be, why haven’t military personnel affected by negligence looked for legal help and filed medical malpractice suits? The simple answer is they simply can’t, according to a 1950 Supreme Court decision known as the Feres Doctrine. According to the doctrine, active-duty troops are not allowed to file suits against military treatment facilities.
Back in 2006, an Army Spc. January Ritchie suffered a miscarriage after she was directed to perform her regular Army duties that contradicted the orders she received from her doctor to rest and limit physical activity. Her husband attempted to sue the military, saying January’s chain of command ignored medical orders and forced his wife to continue with her duties, which resulted in the miscarriage. But the Feres Doctrine protected the military from accepting responsibility for medical negligence.
Civilians and Military Personnel Need to Be Aware of Their Rights
As we discussed in a previous post, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. If you or a loved one has been harmed by medical negligence, speak with a medical malpractice lawyer about your options for obtaining full and fair compensation.
The Texas medical malpractice lawyers of Davis & Davis are committed to fighting for individuals and families who have been harmed by medical negligence. Please see our firm overview to learn more.