The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in June whether to hear a case challenging a decades-old doctrine preventing military members from suing the federal government for medical negligence.If the Feres Doctrine is reversed, experts predict that the government will face hundreds of millions of dollars -- if not billions -- worth of medical liability claims.
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. Witt was admitted to the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in California for a routine appendectomy in 2003, according to court records. The suit alleges that after the surgery, he was left in the postoperative care of student nurses who failed to re-establish his airway after a laryngospasm. Hospital staff also allegedly used pediatric equipment on Witt when adult equipment was available and placed an endotracheal tube down the wrong part of his throat, the lawsuit alleges. Witt had serious brain damage from hypoxia and died in 2004 after being taken off life support.
In 2009, a trial court dismissed the family's lawsuit, ruling the court was bound by the Feres Doctrine.
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