Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mother sues federal govt for letter that suggested her son had died in Iraq

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has an interesting story about a Duluth woman who has sued the federal government for emotional distress because a letter that she wrote to her son stationed in Iraq was returned with the word "DECEASED" stamped on it. Fortunately, the mother was able to contact her son and quickly confirmed he was unharmed. For more on the story go here and here. There are a couple of interesting things about this story. First, it is not clear whose conduct is at issue. Obviously, someone stamped the letter with the word "deceased" by mistake, but it is not clear if it was an employee of the US Postal Service or someone in the military. Second, it is not clear to me whether the claim is barred by the exceptions to the Fedral Torts Claims Act. If the mistake was made by the USPS, the court will have to determine if the claim is barred by the exception that retains immunity for cases arguing injuries caused by the negligent handling of postal matters. If it was the military who made the mistake, the court may try to apply the infamous Feres doctrine which bars recovery for injuries incident to military service - although typically the doctrine applies to cases where the plaintiff is a member of the military.

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