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Federal District Court Holds that Massachusetts Woman’s Malpractice Case Against the Government Lacked Jurisdiction

In order for a Cape Cod medical malpractice case to be filed in a particular court, there must be subject matter jurisdiction. Most such cases are filed in state court, but sometimes there may be jurisdiction in federal court.

One such situation arises when the person who injured the plaintiff was an employee of the federal government. Generally speaking, the government is immune from lawsuits, but there are special exceptions in these types of cases.

Of course, the government has teams of attorneys whose job is to make sure that only qualifying cases are allowed to proceed. Just like other defendants, the government has a right to defend itself in court, even at the pre-trial stage with regard to jurisdictional issues.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal district court case, the plaintiff was a woman who filed suit against the federal government, a registered nurse, and a medical center, seeking to assert a claim for medical malpractice. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, a non-party doctor employed by the government negligently left a sponge inside the plaintiff’s body following a cesarean section in 2011. The plaintiff maintained that the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts had federal question jurisdiction over her claims, which she asserted fell under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) insomuch as the allegedly negligent physician was employed by the government during the relevant time.

The government disagreed with this contention, arguing that the doctor was not covered by the FTCA at the time of the plaintiff’s surgery and that, therefore, the government was not a proper substitute party to the plaintiff’s lawsuit. The government further argued that, under the circumstances, its sovereign immunity was not waived and that the plaintiff’s complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Holding of the Court

The federal district court sided with the government, granting its motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s case against it for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court began by pointing out that the federal government is immune from suit except in situations in which it has consented to be sued. Under the FTCA, there is a limited waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity; the FTCA allows suit in situations in which a negligent act or omission by one of its employees results in personal injury, death, or loss of property. Under the Federally Supported Health Center Assistance Act (FSHCAA), the government’s waiver of its sovereign immunity was extended to certain federal contractors, including some doctors.

Although the plaintiff argued that the doctor who allegedly caused her injuries was covered under the FSHCAA, the court found that the factual record did not support such a finding. This was because the doctor had not entered into a written physician services agreement with the defendant hospital until after the event complained of by the plaintiff. Although the parties to the agreement may have contemplated it as having retroactive effect, the court found that the contracting parties could not retroactively have created a relationship that would have resulted in FTCA coverage of the situation at hand.

Seek Legal Counsel From a Cape Cod Attorney

The birth of a child should be a happy and joyous event. Unfortunately, the negligence of an obstetrician-gynecologist or other physician can cause serious injury or wrongful death to the mother and/or the infant. If you believe that you or a loved one has been injured during childbirth, the experienced ob-gyn malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III will be glad to advise you about your case. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule a free consultation.

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