Supreme Court won't hear case on military medical malpractice lawsuits

The Supreme Court declined this week to take up a case challenging the Feres Doctrine, the 1950 ruling preventing active duty soldiers from suing the government for negligence. 

The widower of Lt. Rebekah Daniel had hoped to challenge the nearly 70 year-old precedent. In 2014, the 33-year-old Navy nurse died during childbirth at a Washington state Naval hospital. Walter Daniel says his wife bled to death. He has publicly said he has not been told how or why it happened or what steps were taken to save her life. He wanted to file a wrongful death lawsuit but was prevented from doing so under the Feres Doctrine, because his wife was active duty.  

"Sadly, the justice system remains closed to our family, our colleagues and the families who commit their lives to military service," said Walter Daniel, in a statement.

The American Association for Justice, a lobbying group representing plaintiff lawyers, say they want to see change.

"Our military service persons are the only class in the United States unable to bring a claim for medical malpractice," said Bruce Stern, the advocacy group's president-elect. "Look, federal prisoners and war-time detainees have that right. We don't believe that's fair."

Earlier this month, FOX 46 was on Capitol Hill when bipartisan lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow active duty soldiers the right to sue for medical malpractice in situations that don't involve combat or training. 

"There ought to be exceptions for non-combat, non-training, medical malpractice," said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord), who worked on the bill.

The bill is in response to a seven month series of FOX 46 investigations into the case of Sfc. Richard Stayskal, a North Carolina Purple Heart Green Beret who was misdiagnosed by doctors at Womack Army Medical Center. In 2017, the military's doctors mistook Stayskal's lung cancer for pneuomonia, records show. A six month gap in treatment caused his tumor to spread.

Stayskal's cancer is now stage four terminal. He is spending the time he has left fighting for a change to the Feres Doctrine. 

"It's heartbreaking," said Hudson. "It's just not fair. The fisrt time I met him I knew I wanted to do something about this."

The Republican representative worked on the bill, which is named after Stayskal, with Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, who introduced it earlier this month. 

Hudson says the bipartisan bill would "restore the civil rights to all of our service members."

"There are a lot of issues that transcend partisan politics," said Hudson. "And supporting our troops is one of them."

Hudson credits a series of FOX 46 investigations for getting results.

"FOX 46 is such an important community partner and the fact they've pushed this story has really helped us get momentum," said Hudson. "And it's helped attract attention of others around the country. So, I give a lot of credit to FOX 46 for finding an important story that's important to our community but really has national implications."