Firm-Wide blog

Childbirth Injury Suit Blocked by ‘Unfair’ Federal Law

By Burg Simpson
June 26, 2015
2 min read

In a ruling that few people would believe could be handed down in the U.S. legal system, a federal appeals court sided with the government at the expense an Air Force Captain’s child who was left with brain damage and cerebral palsy. Based on a doctrine that shields the government from liability, the court dismissed a lawsuit seeking financial assistance to help pay for the 24-hour medical care required because of the medical malpractice committed at Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson.

Consequences of wrong medication last a lifetime

The medical malpractice victim in this tragic case was injured during childbirth as the result of an unfortunate, yet preventable, chain of events. During the course of a planned cesarean section, medical staff gave the mother a dose of Zantac, a medication to which she was allergic. To counteract the allergic reaction, Benadryl was administered, causing a drastic drop in blood pressure that left the baby without oxygen long enough to result in lifelong disabilities.

Dodging responsibility

Instead of agreeing to compensate this young victim, the government fought the lawsuit, relying on something called the “Feres doctrine” to argue that it is not responsible for the medical malpractice at issue. Under this doctrine, active-duty service members are blocked from suing the government for injuries they sustain in the line of duty. According to the government, the baby’s disabilities, in this case, were caused by the mother’s “injury,” a term they used to classify the mother’s drop in blood pressure during birth.

Might over right?

While the Feres doctrine’s line of reasoning might make sense to the government, the court adhered to it only out of its obligation to follow precedent. In the words of the judge who penned the opinion, “To be sure, the facts here exemplify the overbreadth (and unfairness) of the doctrine, but Feres is not ours to overrule.” Continuing to adhere to this unjust legal doctrine appears particularly tragic in light of the fact that a Pentagon military health system review revealed that the average rate of injuries to babies during childbirth in military hospitals was double that of the national average.

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