According to the Fresno Bee, The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the death of Dean Patrick Witt and its connection to the legal doctrine that shield military personnel from lawsuits, on June 23, 2011. Mr. Witt’s widow, Alexis, has filed a military malpractice case after Witt died from having a breathing tube placed in his esophagus instead of his trachea in October 2003.
Mr. Witt is a native of Sacramento Valley and married Alexis in September 2001, the article said. It continued with the retelling of how Witt died: in October 2003, he was at Travis Air Force Base, preparing to move his wife and two children from Utah. He was diagnosed with acute appendicitis at David Grant Medical Center and had a successful operation. After the surgery he began having difficulty breathing and a nurse, first, mistakenly tried to open his airways with pediatric equipment and, second, placed the (correct) breathing tube in his esophagus instead of in his trachea. The incorrect placement of the breathing tube starved Mr. Witt’s brain of oxygen, leaving him in a vegetative state. He was taken off of life-support on January 9, 2004.
Also according to the article, the supervising nurse surrendered her license after the incident. Mrs. Witt did receive insurance benefits and is receiving a monthly tax-free stipend for her and her children from the military.
While if Mr. Witt had been a civilian, his family would have had an open and shut medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit, however, in the 1950s the Supreme Court ruled that military personnel could not sue for injuries occurring “incident to service.” While Congress could change these rules, it would be quite expensive.
It is estimated that medical malpractice lawsuits by military personnel could add 750 lawsuits annually and cost the government $2.7 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office and as cited by the Fresno Bee article.
It is interesting to weigh the options of would it be worth it to allow active-duty military medical malpractice suits with keeping the current standard. What do you think?