The Federal Government enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act, which for the first time permitted lawsuits against the Federal Government for negligence. The statute provides for many exceptions, one of which is combatant activities of military or naval forces, in a time of war. In the 1950's, Lt. Rudolph Feres, an active duty soldier was killed in a fire in his barracks at Camp Pine, N.Y. due to a defective heating equipment and substandard fire safety controls. The Supreme Court applied the military personnel exception and dismissed his case. This became known as the Feres Doctrine as it expanded the scope of the military exception to noncombatant activities. It essentially held that the government was exempt from prosecution, not only during time of war, or for combatant activities, but also, during the entire service period of a military member. Courts have routinely applied the Feres Doctrine dismissing cases even involving service members who are victims of negligence while on furlough and acting completely outside the scope of military capacity.
The United States owns and operates motor vehicles, hospitals, healthcare clinics, office buildings, and roads. The United States owns and operates the James J. Peters VA Medical Center, Northport VA Medical Center, Syracuse VA Medical Center, Albany VA Medical Center. When a federal employee is negligent and causes injury to another in the course of employment, the United States is liable for money damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Before a lawsuit can be started a notice of the claim must be sent to the agency responsible for the injury. For example if the claim involved a postal truck, the notice must be sent to the US Postmaster; if the claim involved a VA hospital the notice must be sent to the Veterans Administration; if the claim involved a federally funded healthcare clinic, the notice must be sent to the US Department of Health. The notice of claim requires a detailed statement of the nature of the claim, damages, injuries, theory of liability and amount of money damages demanded. The agency will review the claim and decide whether it should be paid or rejected. If the claim is rejected a lawsuit can be started in the Federal Court against the United States within two years of the date the claim arose. The case is heard and decided by the judge; there is no right to a jury trial.