This is a sad and horrible case in which Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Patrick Witt was hospitalized in 2003 for what should have been a routine appendectomy at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. After surgery, a nurse anesthetist inserted a breathing tube into his esophagus instead of his trachea or airway, depriving his brain of oxygen. Witt, of Oroville, Calif., died after his family removed him from life support three months later.
Current law protects the military and prevents Staff Sgt. Witt's family from receiving any justice for this malpractice. Veterans, military families and others who oppose the decades-old law, the Feres Doctrine, that shields military medical personnel from malpractice lawsuits are rallying around a case they consider the best chance in a generation to change the protection.
"We labored on this for a long, long time, and we decided that the right thing to do here was to protect the rights of other people who go into the military and are signing away their rights to get good health care in the military system," said Witt's brother-in-law, Carlos Lopez, of Salt Lake City. "So we're hoping, we're praying, that his case could be the one that changes everything."