$7.5 million compensation payout in Air Force medical negligence case

In 2008, Guam district court awarded Deborah Rutledge, wife of US Air Force member Master Sgt. Thomas Rutledge, $7.5 million in medical negligence compensation after she made a claim against the family medical clinic at the Andersen Air Base. The US Circuit Court of Appeals in California later upheld the appeal.

Mrs Rutledge had sought help at the Andersen clinic on several occasions in the summer of 2004, the court heard. She had complained of numbness in her feet, legs and groin, but medical staff did not carry out the appropriate basic examinations and failed to diagnose that she had a herniated spinal disk.

Mrs Rutledge eventually found out she had a herniated spinal disc, and had to go to Hawaii for an emergency operation. Although there weren’t any complications with the procedure, she suffered nerve damage because the herniated disc had been left untreated for so long. Her quality of life has been impaired as a result.

The attorney representing the Rutledges said they were relieved to have reached the end of a “long drawn out process” and were happy that justice had eventually been done. He described the original district court’s ruling as “eminently fair,” adding that the appeals court had “affirmed the reasonableness of the award.”

The Feres Doctrine, a 60-year-old legal precedent, dictates that service-members on active duty cannot claim medical negligence compensation from the military. This rule does not apply to their dependents however, which meant that Deborah Rutledge was able to pursue her claim through the civil courts.

Established in 1944, Andersen air base was originally known as North Field, and takes its current name from Brigadier General James Roy Andersen (1904-1945). The site provides forward support to bomber crews deploying overseas in Europe, Southwest Asia and the Pacific, along with 3 other bases in the US. Officials at Andersen Air Base officials have chosen not to comment on the clinical negligence case.

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