June 27, 2011
Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case Involving Nurse Anesthetist Malpractice
On Monday, June 27, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case, "Witt, Alexis v United States," involving malpractice by a military nurse anesthetist that resulted in the death of a U.S. Air Force Airman. The case involved a challenge to the "Feres Doctrine" which prohibits active duty members of the military from suing the federal government for health care liability issues. By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court upheld the "Feres Doctrine."
Airman Dean Witt presented at David Grant U.S. Air Force Medical Center in Fairfield, CA, with acute appendicitis. Following a successful appendectomy, Witt experienced breathing complications. While attempting to address the complications, a nurse anesthetist improperly intubated Witt placing the breathing tube into his esophagus instead of his trachea. Witt suffered brain damage and subsequently died.
Witt’s family filed suit in the 9th Circuit Federal Court in San Francisco. The court affirmed the "Feres Doctrine" leading the family to bring the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The supervising nurse anesthetist admitted error and surrendered her license.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that if the "Feres Doctrine" was overturned, 750 malpractice lawsuits would be filed annually that would cost the federal government $2.7 billion over ten years.