High court will not consider military medical liability shield

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Aug. 8, 2011

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The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging a decades-old doctrine preventing military members from suing the federal government for medical negligence.

The family of Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Witt sued the government in 2008, claiming that his death was the result of carelessness by military health center staff. In 2009, a trial court dismissed the family's lawsuit, ruling the court was bound by the so-called Feres Doctrine.

The doctrine stems from the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, which allowed claims against the government for certain negligent acts but prevented lawsuits by military members for combat-related injuries. A 1950 Supreme Court decision expanded the exclusion to bar lawsuits over any injuries "incident to military service."

An appellate court affirmed the Witt case's dismissal. The family appealed to the high court. In late June, justices said they would not review the case.

Since the denial, Rep Maurice Hinchey (D, N.Y.) has announced that he will reintroduce legislation to abolish the law. He pushed for similar legislation in 2009.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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