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Medical malpractice claims may become possible for the military

It is no secret that a person serving in the military risks being injured in the line of duty. People enlist in the military in Maryland knowing of the risk, and by signing they acknowledge that they cannot hold the military liable for injuries suffered during their service. This absolves the military from being cited for medical malpractice. This has been the case since the Supreme Court ruled in 1950 that members of the military could not sue for injuries that were perceived to be a result of medical malpractice on the part of the military. This could change if pending legislation known as the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act becomes law.

The legislation was inspired in part by the story of Sergeant 1st Class Richard Stayskal. After experiencing breathing problems, he went to a military emergency room and an X-ray was taken, resulting in a diagnosis of pneumonia. He returned to the same emergency room a few months later, still experiencing breathing problems. An X-ray showed a tumor on his lung and a review of the first X-ray revealed the tumor had been present in that X-ray but had been missed.

The pending legislation would allow the Secretary of Defense to settle and pay claims brought against the military for medical misdiagnoses by military physicians. The pending legislation is retroactive to Jan. 2017. It is an important first step.

Members of the military in Maryland know they can be injured in the field of war, that it is a risk of the job they signed up for. They do not sign up for death sentences that can result from medical misdiagnoses. The legislation is moving through Congress, is expected to pass and to be signed into law. Being able to file a medical malpractice claim may help to bring some feeling of justice those to suffering with advanced cancer diagnoses that were missed in the early stages of the disease.