The recent report of the death of one of our servicemen during a flight training exercise near Pensacola reminded me of my law partner's fight with the Federal Government in the Mirecki case. On March 2, 1988, United States Navy airman Lee Mirecki died during a military training exercise. He was only 19-years old. Although training programs within the Navy were changed as a result of this incident, his family never received due compensation from the United States, because the United States Supreme Court ruled the Navy immune from a lawsuit, despite the near-murderous intentions of the training instructor. The fact were horrendous, but suffice it to say that Airman Mirecki was urgently pleading to be released from the "voluntary" training at the time of his forced demise. My law partner Martin Levin fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The opinion upholding the Feres immunity doctrine in this case is Kitowski v. United States. No. 90-3744, 931 F2d 1526 (11th Cir.May 29, 1991)
There is good reason for holding the military immune from lawsuits. Anything can happen in wartime and training always carries some risk. My law partner and our firm believed, however, that exceptions should be recognized in some egregious cases. Exception should also be found where a private contractor is involved. I note that such may be the case in the recent local incident involving the death during training of Major Garrett Wayne Knowlan. See the news post at Ring of Fire [click here]. Also, check out this helpful website on non-combat deaths.