Suing the Military for Wrongful Death
The loss of a loved one is always a tragic and traumatic experience. It can be even more devastating when a loved one who was a military service member suffers wrongful death as a result of military negligence.
If your situation meets certain requirements, it may be possible to sue the military for wrongful death and recover compensation for your loss. While money can never reverse your loss or change what happened to your loved one, just compensation can give you the financial relief you need for a stable future.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in the Military?
The process of filing a wrongful death claim against the military is far more complex and challenging than suing civilian individuals or corporations.
More than 70 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a court decision known as the Feres Doctrine. The Feres Doctrine prohibits active military service members from filing claims against the government for injuries or death arising from military service. This includes service members who were harmed or killed as a result of military medical malpractice.
Though the Feres Doctrine is still in place today, Congress recently approved a provision under the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows certain military members and their families to bring limited claims against the government in specific circumstances.
The NDAA affects surviving families of each of the following categories of military wrongful death victims differently:
- Service members killed in active duty combat – Surviving family members of service members killed in active duty combat are not permitted to file claims under the NDAA or sue the government for wrongful death. This includes surviving loved ones of those who died as a result of military medical malpractice after being injured in combat zones.
- Service members and veterans who died as a result of military medical malpractice – If a veteran or service member who is not on active duty dies as a result of military medical malpractice, their surviving family members may file claims for wrongful death. Under the NDAA, families must first seek financial compensation by filing an administrative claim with the military, which must respond to the claim within six months.
If the military does not respond within six months, denies responsibility for the claim, or accepts only partial liability for the claim, family members may then proceed to sue the military in a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Military family members who died as a result of military medical malpractice – If a family member related to a military service member dies as a result of military medical malpractice during treatment in a VA or military hospital, their surviving family members may file claims for compensation under the NDAA. This includes family members of minors who die because of military medical malpractice.
Families of military family members killed by military medical malpractice may also file wrongful death lawsuits against the military if their claims are denied or ignored by the military for more than six months.
Types of Military Wrongful Death Cases
While you generally cannot sue the military for wrongful deaths that arise during the course of a loved one’s military service, you may be able to file a lawsuit for wrongful death caused by military medical malpractice. This does not include wrongful deaths that were the result of medical malpractice within active combat zones.
However, you may have grounds for a lawsuit if your loved one suffered wrongful death because of substandard treatment at a VA, Department of Defense (DOD), or military healthcare facility.
Some common types of military medical malpractice that may lead to wrongful death include:
- Birth-related negligence – When military hospital staff fails to provide appropriate care and monitoring during labor and delivery, babies and mothers sometimes suffer fatal injuries as a result.
- Improperly treated infections – Military doctors, nurses, and other medical staff who fail to recognize or properly treat infections may be responsible for wrongful death if infections worsen and cause fatal complications.
- Misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose – If military healthcare professionals fail to provide timely diagnoses of medical conditions or make diagnostic errors, their negligence can lead to wrongful death when patients do not receive proper treatment.
- Surgical mishaps – Military surgical staff may be responsible for wrongful death if they make negligent surgical mistakes, such as anesthesia errors, negligent incisions, or leaving surgical instruments inside of patients’ bodies.
- Medication errors – If a military doctor, nurse, or pharmacist administers improper medications or dosages, their negligence could result in wrongful death.
What Do You Have to Prove in a Wrongful Death Claim Against the Military?
If you decide to pursue a wrongful death claim against the military, it’s important to understand what you must prove to succeed. Any time you file a claim against the military, it’s critical to gather strong evidence to support the basis of your claim.
The evidence you submit with your military wrongful death claim must demonstrate two main elements. First, you must prove that the military healthcare provider or institution that you believe caused your loved one’s wrongful death breached the duty of care they owed to your loved one.
Every medical professional is expected to operate according to a medical standard of care. This standard of care refers to the type and quality of care that reasonably competent medical professionals with similar backgrounds and skills would provide under a given set of circumstances.
In cases of alleged military malpractice that result in wrongful death, it’s necessary to demonstrate that military medical professionals failed to provide the medical standard of care and, in doing so, breached their duty of care.
The second element you must prove in your claim is that the military healthcare provider’s negligence was the direct cause of your loved one’s wrongful death. This means that it’s not enough to prove that your loved one died while under the care of military medical professionals. You must make it clear that their death was caused by military medical malpractice.
It may be useful to locate and present the following types of evidence to support your military wrongful death claim:
- Your loved one’s medical records showing the actions that military healthcare providers took
- Copies of military hospital policies and standard operating procedures that may have contributed to negligent healthcare techniques
- Clinical practice guidelines that describe proper medical standards of care
- Testimony from other medical professionals with comparable backgrounds and skills describing the actions they would have taken in similar circumstances
How a Military Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help
When you file a claim against the military for the wrongful death of your loved one, you will be subject to strict rules and deadlines. Any errors in your claim could compromise your case and prevent you from obtaining the justice you deserve.
A military wrongful death lawyer understands the complexities of the laws and legal doctrines that apply to claims and lawsuits filed against the military. By working with a medical malpractice attorney with specific experience handling wrongful death claims, such as the attorneys of Bertram Law Group, you can give your case the best chance of success.
The military wrongful death lawyers of Bertram Law Group can support your case by:
- Helping you understand the legal process – Military malpractice and wrongful death cases are notoriously complex, and it’s not always easy to determine the best way to pursue a claim. An attorney can help you understand your legal grounds for a claim and how to bring legal action against the military for the wrongful death of your loved one.
- Ensuring your claim is free of errors and filed on time – Surviving family members have only two years from the date of their loved one’s death to file claims for compensation. A lawyer can help ensure your claim is prepared accurately and filed before this two-year deadline expires so the claim is not dismissed by the court.
- Estimating the value of your claim – When you submit your initial claim, you must provide a value for the compensation you wish to pursue. A military medical malpractice attorney will have experience with a variety of similar cases and can use their knowledge to help you estimate a fair value for your claim.
- Gathering compelling evidence of military medical malpractice – An attorney can help you request medical records and healthcare facility policies that may demonstrate military medical malpractice. Your lawyer can also help you collect other types of evidence, such as photos and video footage revealing potential medical malpractice.
- Consulting with expert witnesses for professional testimony – Lawyers can locate and hire expert witnesses, such as other medical professionals, to provide useful testimony. A medical malpractice attorney will know what questions to ask experts to establish that military healthcare providers did not adhere to medical standards of care.
- Taking your case to trial, if necessary – If the military rejects your initial claim for compensation, you may be forced to sue under the Federal Torts Claims Act. A military wrongful death attorney understands the intricacies of filing lawsuits against the government and can represent you every step of the way.
If you believe your loved one passed away as a result of military medical negligence, contact Bertram Law Group today. Our award-winning attorneys focus exclusively on medical malpractice cases. We have what it takes to advocate for military families who have been devastated by the wrongful death of a loved one.
Contact us now to get started with your free and confidential initial consultation.