Although in most cases it is not possible to sue the federal government, Montana patients who have been harmed by the negligence of an employee at a federally-funded medical facility may do so. This medical malpractice exception is contained in the Federal Tort Claims Act, although it is still not possible to collect punitive damages from the government.
In Pennsylvania, a judge handed down a verdict of $41.6 million against the government after a baby suffered severe permanent brain damage during delivery. According to one expert who testified at the trial, a mid-forceps delivery, which the obstetrician used, should only be used in extreme emergencies. Furthermore, the doctor used excessive force and misapplied the forceps. According to another expert, forceps delivery may lead to skull fractures, brain bleeding and a damaged brain stem and cerebellum.
Victims of medical malpractice at a federally-funded facility should first find out if the medical professional responsible is an employee of the facility or a contractor. In the latter case, the government is not liable. If the federal government is liable, the prospective plaintiff has to send a notice of claim within two years of discovering the injury to the appropriate agency. The agency has six months to respond, and there is an additional six-month period in which to file a lawsuit. These procedures must be carefully observed.
In determining whether medical malpractice has occurred, a court will consider whether the patient received a reasonable standard of care. For example, in the above instance, experts provided testimony that using forceps in that way and at that stage of delivery was not standard medical procedure. This approach acknowledges that not every negative medical outcome is the result of medical malpractice while holding medical professionals responsible for serious errors.