An opera singer has filed suit against the U.S. government, alleging medical malpractice at a U.S. Army hospital. Herbst v. United States, No. 1:14-cv-00055, complaint (S.D. Oh., Jan. 16, 2014). She is claiming that a botched surgical procedure during childbirth has left her unable to work in her profession. Since the hospital is operated by the U.S. government, and the medical professionals working there were all government employees at the time, the lawsuit claims that the federal government is liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671, et seq. The doctrine of sovereign immunity generally bars lawsuits against the government, but statutes like the FTCA establish situations in which the government may be sued for injuries.
The plaintiff is a classically-trained opera singer, who was previously with the Nashville Opera Company. Her husband is a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. She went to Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH) at Fort Campbell, where she and her husband resided, on February 27, 2012. She was thirty-nine weeks pregnant at the time, and had experienced spontaneous rupture of membranes. This is commonly known as having one’s water break, meaning that labor has started.
She gave birth to a healthy baby boy. During delivery, a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) reportedly performed a midline episiotomy, a procedure that widens the vaginal opening by making an incision in the perineum. The plaintiff states that she did not consent to this procedure, nor was she told about the possible need for it. Risks associated with an episiotomy include further tearing during or after birth.