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Supreme Court Rejects Opportunity to Overrule Feres Doctrine

A bedrock legal principle that most law students learn in their first year of law school is that governments and their agencies and employees are typically immune from being sued. The doctrine is called “sovereign immunity,” and it essentially holds that a sovereign or any of its agents cannot be sued for wrongdoing unless it agrees to be sued.

For this reason, each state has enacted a “tort claims act” law that spells out the circumstances under which that state, its subdivisions, and its employees and agents can be held civilly liable for wrongdoing. The federal government has its own law, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), that accomplishes the same goal.

Feres Doctrine Nullifies the FTCA

Despite the existence of the FTCA, military members who are hurt while on active duty are still not able to sue the federal government civilly. This is due to a separate legal doctrine known as the Feres doctrine. This doctrine was first announced in the 1950 United States Supreme Court case, Feres v. United States. This doctrine holds that an active duty service member has no cause of action under the FTCA against the federal government for injuries they sustain while on active duty.

valor firm logoIn announcing the doctrine, the Supreme Court announced three reasons why the doctrine was sound. These reasons included taking note of the unique relationship between the federal government and military personnel. The Court also concluded that Congress could not have wanted FTCA claims to be available to military members who had also received disability benefits for their service-related injuries.

Feres Doctrine Remains the Law of the Land

Late last year, the Supreme Court had an opportunity to review the Feres doctrine but declined to do so. A wrongful death claim was brought by the widow of a deceased Marine who developed leukemia following exposure to toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune in the 1970s. Both the trial court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals noted the effect of the FTCA, but that the Feres doctrine operated to prevent the sort of suit the Marine’s widow was attempting to bring.

Specifically, the courts found that the Feres doctrine prevents military personnel from bringing a civil suit against the federal government for injuries incidental to military service. 

The Supreme Court declined to review the dismissal of the widow’s case, leaving the Feres doctrine intact over Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent.

Valor Firm Helps Veterans Receive Benefits

This means that VA disability benefits remain the source of compensation for veterans who are hurt or who become ill while serving their country. If you have filed a claim for disability benefits but your claim has been denied, you need experienced legal assistance to get your claim back on track. Because other avenues of obtaining compensation are not available, an unfair or improper denial of your VA disability claim can wreak havoc on your finances.

Call Valor Firm at (504) 218-2510, or contact us online, to schedule a consultation with our knowledgeable team.

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About the Author

Adam Werner is a partner and practicing attorney at WHG. He specializes in personal injury cases, workers’ compensation claims, and veteran disability benefits. He routinely writes about personal injury and workers comp topics for the Werner, Hoffman, Greig & Garcia blog

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