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Mark Favaloro
Mark Favaloro
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Recent Supreme Court Ruling Opens Military Doctors Up To Med Mal Claims

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Something many may not realize is that military doctors are protected from medical malpractice lawsuits with governmental immunity. However, a recent Supreme Court ruling will likely change that and open the door for some lawsuits.

The recent case, Levin v. United States, involved a man named Steven Alan Levin who filed suit against his eye surgeon after an operation at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam to remove a cataract in his right eye went terribly wrong. Rather than fix things, Levin was left with diminished eyesight, pain and a variety of other problems.

Even more shocking is that Levin claims he withdrew his consent to the procedure two different times based on worries over the quality of the equipment being used. Levin says that the Navy surgeon proceeded with the surgery anyway which led to Levin developing severe corneal edema. Levin then sued the doctor for battery.

Doctors working for the Department of Veterans Affairs have been immune from medical malpractice claims since Congress passed the Federal Tort Claims Act that shielded them from lawsuits. The Supreme Court used a 1988 exception to that law, the Gonzalez Act, to rule that Levin’s case should be allowed to move forward against the doctor. The Court said that the Gonzalez Act made clear that federal law establishing sovereign immunity for intentional tort claims should not apply to medical personnel working for federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The case is great news for those veterans receiving treatment from VA healthcare facilities who, until now, had no recourse to pursue civil claims for damage if something were to go wrong. The Supreme Court’s ruling should also serve as an additional incentive for military physicians to ensure they give patients the highest level of care possible.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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