Retired Airman Forced to Amputate Legs Sues U.S Government for Medical Malpractice

A longstanding doctrine shields the U.S. government from medical malpractice liability…but a recent legal challenge by a disabled airman may change that. Our skilled medical malpractice lawyers strongly advocate on behalf of all victims of preventable medical mistakes, including dedicated service members. We believe all U.S. citizens deserve quality medical care, regardless of their age, injury, or occupation.

The Air Force Times is reporting on what has been described as one of the worst cases in military malpractice history. In July 2009, 20-year-Colton Read went into the David Grant Medical Center on Travis Air Force Base in California for a routine gallbladder surgery. Doctors recommended the surgery to treat Read’s stomach pains before he deployed. According to the lawsuit, early on in the operation a surgical resident punctured Read’s aorta, cutting off the blood supply to his legs. Read’s blood pressure rapidly dropped and his legs turned cold and colorless. Unfortunately, doctors did not make any attempt to repair the tear until he lost more than two-thirds of his blood supply.

This tragic case of negligence resulted in serious, permanent damage. By the time the airman was transferred to a civilian hospital several hours later, necrosis set in and both of his legs had to be amputated. His gallbladder was also removed the following year. Now Read is confined to a wheelchair, battling depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and excruciating pain where his legs used to be.

The young airman and his wife are suing the government for roughly $54 million for pain, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of earning capacity, and other damages stemming from the botched surgical procedure. Unfortunately, he may face an uphill battle. In order to succeed in his case, the court will have to overturn a well-established doctrine that courts across the board have consistently upheld for the last sixty years.

Active duty members such as Read are effectively barred from suing the U.S. government for service-related injuries, including instances of medical malpractice. The Feres Doctrine dates back to a 1950s case, Feres v. United States, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal government cannot be held liable for personal injuries suffered in the course of military duty.

The Feres Doctrine has faced multiple legal challenges over the years, but none have been successful. In June 2011, the high court refused to hear a horrific case of military medical malpractice that left an airman in a persistent vegetative state. Some legal analysts predict that Read’s case may face the same fate. Still, it is important to remember that Congress has the power to pass legislation to change the doctrine at any time, and this instance of medical malpractice may be the final push that they need to do so.

Illinois medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm strongly believe that all medical personnel, including military health care workers, need to be held accountable for negligence. Military officials argue that military caregivers who violate established medical standards still face administrative actions. Compensation benefits may also be available to malpractice victims and their families. However, these benefits fall short of compensation sufficient to fund the top-quality care that all citizens deserve. Military malpractice victims and all victims of preventable medical errors should enjoy equal access to the court system. A civil medical malpractice lawsuit can help to deter future negligence by holding negligent parties accountable for the injuries that they cause.

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