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Bill would allow U.S. troops to sue for malpractice

By Chris Rizo | May 23, 2008

Rep. Maurice Hinchey

WASHINGTON-Members of the U.S. armed forces would be able to sue the military for medical malpractice, if one New York congressman has his way.

Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey has introduced the Carmelo Rodriquez Military Medical Accountability Act to reverse a 1950 U.S. Supreme Court that protects the military from malpractice claims.

"Joining the military should not mean that one has to give up his or her right to hold medical providers accountable," Hinchey said.

The bill, outlined in HR 6093, would allow claims for damages for death or personal injury resulting from negligence, the failure to act or wrongful acts in medical, dental or other health care provided by the military to service members.

The claims would be brought against the government, not the individual medical personnel.

The legislation is named for a U.S. Marine sergeant who died last year from skin cancer after military medical personnel made what some have called errors in medical judgment.

Carmelo Rodriquez of Ellenville, N.Y., who died at 29, had a melanoma on his buttocks that had been misdiagnosed as a birthmark or wart by military doctors in Iraq.

"The death of Carmelo Rodriguez is an extraordinary tragedy that has left his family with nowhere to turn," Hinchey said.

If enacted the legislation would reverse the Feres Doctrine, which prohibits lawsuits for medical negligence that harms service members.

"As the result of a misguided law and subsequent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Rodriguez family and many other military families in similar situations have no way of holding the military responsible for the negligence of military medical personnel," Hinchey said.

Proponents of the law say it is necessary to, among other things, protect officers from being threatened by possible lawsuits from lower-ranking personnel. Moreover, some say the law helps keep doctors in the military.

The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, and Barney Frank, D-Mass., who has sponsored similar legislation in the past.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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