Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

55-Year-Old Ruling Prevents Lawsuits against Government; Active-Duty Personnel Can't Sue, Even If Negligence Is Involved

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

55-Year-Old Ruling Prevents Lawsuits against Government; Active-Duty Personnel Can't Sue, Even If Negligence Is Involved

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM and THOMAS LAKE

The red lesions spread from his legs to his torso. The swelling put him in a hospital bed. But 11 months passed before military doctors found the cancer in Lt. Cmdr. Walter Hardin's lymph nodes, and by then it was too late to save his life.

As Hardin lay on his deathbed at age 47, someone told him a Navy dermatologist was coming for a visit. This was the man from Jacksonville Naval Hospital's Mayport clinic who'd first seen the symptoms and diagnosed eczema.

"Don't let that man near me," Hardin growled, according to his widow, 42-year-old Arlington resident Pat Hardin. Now she must raise their two boys alone.

She would take the Navy to court for medical negligence if she could. But Hardin and other military dependents are barred from suing the military under a controversial 55-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision known as the Feres Doctrine.

The ruling says active-duty personnel and their survivors cannot recover damages from the military when their injuries are incident to service. Judges have said it applies to medical negligence or malpractice claims on behalf of service members.

Active-duty personnel make up about one quarter of Jacksonville Naval Hospital's patients.

In an online survey last year, 78 percent of readers responding to a Military Times Media Group survey said the Feres Doctrine either should be abolished or at least revised so it applies only to wartime injuries or deaths.

"If it happened in a civilian hospital, this family would be set for life," said Jeffrey Trueman, a retired Navy petty officer from Georgia. "When you have a law that grants you total immunity like the Feres Doctrine, you have no worries."

Trueman is founder of Veterans Equal Rights Protection Advocacy, a group of military veterans and dependents that wants to strike down the Feres Doctrine. …

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