Military Medical Malpractice Victims May Be Eligible for Shipboard Injuries

Proposed new legislation could expand military servicemembers’ rights to receive compensation for medical malpractice claims. The proposed bill, titled the Seaman Danyelle Luckey Military Medical Accountability Amendment Act of 2022 (the Luckey Act), would grant servicemembers the right to pursue compensation for injuries caused by negligent medical care while aboard ships. 

The bill is named after Seaman Danyelle Luckey, who died in 2016 aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. The ship’s staff failed to correctly diagnose her sepsis, and the condition became fatal when it could have been treated with a simple course of antibiotics. She was 23. 

Seaman Luckey’s family could not take any action against the medical professionals who misdiagnosed and failed to treat her sepsis. Under the Feres doctrine, military servicemembers and their families are barred from seeking justice for medical malpractice at military facilities. The Feres Doctrine dates back to a 1950 Supreme Court decision in which the Court ruled that members of the armed services cannot sue the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for injuries incurred during active duty.

For years, the Feres Doctrine applied to all injuries active-duty servicemembers suffered, whether in battle or at the hospital. However, this made it significantly harder for military servicemembers to hold negligent medical professionals accountable for providing poor-quality care. Opponents of the Feres doctrine argued that it protected negligent medical professionals and led to worse overall care for the people who have already given so much for their country. 

The Luckey Act would help address this issue. It would expressly grant servicemembers the right to pursue compensation if they were harmed by military medical workers while on ships like Seaman Luckey. Should the bill pass, it will be a significant step toward medical justice within the armed forces.

Current Rights of Servicemembers to Pursue Malpractice Claims

The Luckey Act would be an expansion to another recent bill. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed in 2020, included significant provisions taken from the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019. The NDAA permits active-duty military personnel or their surviving family members to seek compensation from the Department of Defense for injuries or deaths caused by medical malpractice by military healthcare workers. 

Under the NDAA, servicemembers must submit their claim to the Department of Defense, where it will be investigated. If the claim is substantiated, the Department of Defense will pay claims less than $100,000 directly to the claimant. Larger claims will be passed on to the Treasury Department. 

However, the bill has loopholes for shipboard facilities. According to the law, these facilities do not officially qualify as “military medical treatment facilities,” so any injuries active-duty military personnel suffer there are not currently eligible for compensation from the Department of Defense. Should the Luckey Act be signed into law, it will fix this gap and make cases like Seaman Luckey’s eligible for compensation.

How to File Military Medical Malpractice Claims

If you have a military medical malpractice claim, it’s essential to understand that neither the NDAA nor the Luckey Act would permit you to file a lawsuit against the federal government for your injuries. Instead, you need to submit a claim to the branch of the military in which you or your departed loved one served.

If you’re unsure how to file a malpractice claim under the NDAA, you can work with a knowledgeable attorney. A good lawyer will help you put together the documents and evidence necessary to demonstrate the validity of your claim and potentially help you dispute denials. Here’s what you can expect from the submission process.

  • Consult with an experienced attorney: The claims process is complex. There isn’t a simple form you can fill out when making your claim. Even though the NDAA doesn’t permit lawsuits, it’s still a good idea to hire a medical malpractice attorney to help you move through the claims process. They will guide you through the following steps to ensure that your claim has the best possible chance of success.
  • Verify that you’re eligible to file under the NDAA: Not every servicemember benefits from the NDAA’s new malpractice process. You can only file a malpractice claim if you were harmed in specific “military medical treatment facilities” while on active duty. Your attorney will help you determine if your claim meets the eligibility requirements.
  • Collect evidence for your claim: The Department of Defense requires proof that you were harmed to consider any claims. It’s good practice to consult with a neutral healthcare professional to document the injuries you’ve suffered. You will submit their affidavit declaring you’ve been harmed and that the harm was likely caused by malpractice alongside your evidence.
  • Write your claim: NDAA malpractice claims require written submissions that include the factual basis for the claim, a demand for a specific dollar amount in compensation, and your signature. Your attorney will help you draft a claim that meets these criteria. 
  • File your claim before the deadline: The NDAA requires you to file your claim within two years of the incident. The regular statute of limitations does not apply because the claims process is not a lawsuit. Time is of the essence, so it’s essential to begin your claim as soon as possible to ensure it’s submitted promptly. 

Holding Military Medical Professionals Accountable 

The Luckey Act could significantly expand military personnel’s right to hold negligent healthcare workers accountable for their actions. However, the state of military medical malpractice is still substantially more complicated than civilian cases. If you’re unsure whether you can file a malpractice lawsuit or need to submit a claim to the Department of Defense, you can consult with the expert team at the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC. Our qualified medical malpractice attorneys will listen to your case and help you determine the best way to move forward. You can start the process of pursuing compensation for your injuries by scheduling your consultation today.

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