Feres Doctrine Reviewed

The United States Supreme Court will decide next month whether to hear a case involving the infamous Feres Doctrine. In 1950 in Feres v. United States, the Supreme Court held that military servicemen cannot bring actions against the United States for injuries which “arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service.”  The doctrine has been criticized by VA groups and military personnel as unfairly limiting an active military person’s recovery rights.

Supporters of the Feres Doctrine maintain eliminating the doctrine will “demean injuries suffered in combat by providing the soldier injured on the battlefield with administrative compensation while the soldier injured in a military hospital could seek a multi-million dollar damage award in federal court.” (US Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz).

Distinguish between Battlefield and Hospital. There are traits of a good soldier and I suspect most people who chose to go into the military have the traits of discipline, courage, and reliability that make a good soldier. The soldier no doubt understands he is getting into potential loss of life and limb in battle. But once the battle is over, and the soldier is in the care of  a military health care provider, he should be able to rely on proper care. This means the same standard of care a retired soldier or non military person receives.

The Trial Lawyer Myth. In 2009 a bill was introduced into the House that would limit Feres by allowing military personnel to sue for medical malpractice. Republican lawmakers derided the bill maintaining it would be expensive and benefit trial lawyers more then service families. The bill died. This argument ignors the fact that a soldier who is injured by military health providers who fall below the standard of care and cause harm lacks the money to pay a lawyer to take on the United States Government. It is only through the contingent fee offered by a personal injury lawyer that the soldier is able to maintain an action to redress his injuries. If the lawyer loses the case he receives no fees and most likely loses the money he has spent to work up the case. These realities ensure the lawyer will not bring a frivolous lawsuit.

Government Cost in Claims. Allowing a soldier to sue for government negligence outside the battle field will result in the United States Government paying valid claims and this will cost money. But there will be two corresponding benefits.  First, the soldier will receive the compensation to which he is entitled. Second, our Government will inevitably take steps to remedy the cause of the harm. This makes life safer for the next soldier.

Value Our Soldiers. The principal reason the Feres Doctrine should be modified to allow soldiers to recover for government negligence off the battlefield is respect and dignity to our military personal. Our soldiers risk life and limb at less pay than they would receive in the private sector. Our military is the foundation for our greatness as a nation. Military personal should have the same rights we have as United States citizens to redress negligent wrongs that harm them and their families.

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3 Responses to “Feres Doctrine Reviewed”

  1. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs VA is a government-run military veteran benefit system with Cabinet-level status. Thousands of military personnel may have been exposed to the toxic fumes and across the United States more than 300 have joined a class-action lawsuit against KBR the military contractor that …..

  2. Jeffrey Ziegler says:

    Every time I see a post on the Feres Doctrine, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Be aware that Feres also protects the US military from legal malpractice.

    Feres was NEVER designed 60 years ago to protect against torts, corruption, misdeeds, and cover-ups by US Army lawyers. Today it protects against everything.

  3. Billie U. says:

    The Feres Doctrine boggles the mind. The Army can not be held accountable because of the Feres Doctrine. Why is the Army exempt from being held accountable for Negligence? Our young men and woman are risking their lives. This is how our country treats the soldiers and the families? This needs to stop…… The Army is not above the Law. The Feres Doctrine needs to be overturned.

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