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U.S. government pays $7.5 million to medical malpractice victim

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. government has paid $7.5 million to an Air Force spouse, five months after a federal appeals court upheld the multi-million dollar award, citing negligence on the part of Air Force medical staff that left the woman disabled, the couple’s lawyer confirmed Thursday.

In March, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California upheld a 2008 verdict by the Guam district court awarding Deborah Rutledge $7.5 million, saying the amount was not excessive considering the extent of injuries she suffered when medical staff at an Andersen Air Force Base clinic on Guam failed for several weeks to diagnose a herniated spinal disk in 2004.

An attorney for Rutledge and her husband, retired Master Sgt. Thomas Rutledge, confirmed the payment had been made.

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“The Rutledges are relieved that this long drawn out process is finally over and that they ultimately received justice from the judicial process,” Guam-based attorney Robert Keogh wrote in an email Thursday. “The District Court’s award was eminently fair under all the circumstances presented, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the reasonableness of the award.”

Andersen Air Base officials said Thursday they would not comment on the case.

According to court documents, Rutledge sought medical help for numbness in her groin, legs and feet at the Andersen family clinic several times in July and August of 2004. A nurse and a doctor’s assistant at the clinic failed to do basic medical examinations for the numbness, did not report the case to supervisors and misdiagnosed Rutledge’s condition during the visits, the Guam district court found in 2008.

Rutledge’s symptoms remained after an emergency operation in Hawaii, and she still suffers due to nerve damage caused by the untreated herniated disc, according to her attorney and court records.

Active-duty servicemembers are not allowed to sue for medical malpractice committed by the military due to the Feres Doctrine, a 60-year-old legal precedent that shields the government from liability. But military dependents such as Deborah Rutledge are permitted to sue in civil court.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

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