The Feres Doctrine May Act to Preclude Maryland Military Personnel from Pursuing Claims Against the Government

Those who have been injured in a serious Maryland personal injury accident allegedly caused by a government employee can generally pursue a claim against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). While the federal government was originally immune from civil liability, the FTCA acts as a waiver of governmental immunity in certain situations. However, if an accident victim is unable to establish that their claim falls under the FTCA, then a court will likely dismiss the case on the grounds of immunity.

The Feres doctrine is an exception to the FTCA. The doctrine was essentially created by the United States Supreme Court in the case, Feres v. United States. Specifically, the doctrine holds that the United States cannot be held liable by military personnel who are injured while on active duty (and not on furlough) and are injured as a result of another military personnel’s negligence. The practical effect of the Feres doctrine is that those on active military duty cannot pursue a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the United States if another service member’s negligence caused their injuries.

Application of the Feres doctrine can result in seemingly unfair results; however, before the government can rely on the doctrine, it must prove that each of the elements is met. A recent fatal traffic accident provides an example of a situation where the Feres doctrine may not be appropriate.

On June 6, 2019, a West Point cadet was killed and several other cadets and soldiers injured when a military vehicle was involved in an accident on the way to a training exercise. According to an article by the New York Times, the group of cadets was on the way to a training area about eight miles away from the main campus when the vehicle rolled over. Details have not been released regarding the cause of the rollover.

One local government official expressed a lack of surprise, explaining that the “vehicles are very prone to rollovers” since the vehicle’s axles are higher than usual so the trucks can effectively navigate various types of terrain. However, a military official later explained that rollovers are not common, and that there was no indication the vehicle was carrying too many passengers.

One question that could arise in a subsequent wrongful death case was whether the Feres doctrine applied to bar a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the deceased cadet’s family. This question would hinge on whether the cadet was considered an active duty member of the armed services.

Have You Been Injured While Serving Your Country?

If you or a loved one has been injured while a member of the armed services, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. While the Feres doctrine may apply in a limited number of situations, you should not assume that it will prevent you from pursuing your claim. Instead, discuss your case with one of the dedicated Maryland personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we represent injury victims and their families in all types of claims, including Maryland car accident claims. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

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