Jamal Alsaffar litigated a case that modified federal law, creating more legal protections for babies born to military mothers. Plaintiff Melody Brown, who’s now 12 years old, will receive lifetime medical care for her spina bifida as a result.
In 2008, in Brown v. United States, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee awarded Brown and her family almost $13.7 million in their Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit. The parties subsequently settled Brown for $12.5 million, Alsaffar says.
But before the case reached that happy ending, Alsaffar and law partner Michael Archuleta — who is a medical doctor as well as a lawyer, and, like Alsaffar, a partner in Archuleta, Alsaffar & Higginbotham — needed to appeal the district court’s 2003 order. That order had dismissed Brown as precluded under Feres v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1950 decision barring claims by military personnel for injuries incident to service.
Alsaffar successfully argued before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Melody Brown’s injury did not derive from an injury to her mother. Rather, he argued, it was a direct injury resulting from a military doctor’s alleged inadequate treatment during prenatal care, and the administration of proper care would have been for the benefit of the fetus, not the mother. In a 2-1 decision in 2006, the 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s decision that had dismissed the suit.
Noting that Alsaffar argued the case before the 6th Circuit, Archuleta says, "The argument was outlined so well that the justices got it."
The 6th Circuit’s decision not only enabled Brown to receive lifetime care but also opened the courtroom doors for other babies of military mothers, Archuleta says. "It changed the law of the land," he says.
Alsaffar has developed a niche practice in FTCA litigation, representing the families of military veterans and active duty personnel. He says he has a personal understanding of hardship; the failure of his Iraqi-born father’s construction business during the real estate crash of the 1980s forced him to work to help support his parents and two sisters.
When military families are the victims of negligence, there is not much available to help them, he says.
"I really sympathize with the David in the David and Goliath story," Alsaffar says.
In a Texas case, Alsaffar represented a military family whose child suffered a brain injury during labor and delivery. The plaintiffs filed I.R.H., et al. v. United States in 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. The case settled in 2010 for $5.8 million, says Alsaffar.
"I handled all the negotiations" for the settlement, he notes.
Alsaffar, a 2000 graduate of Baylor Law School, joined the Michael Archuleta Law Firm as an associate in 2003 from the Sharp Firm in Austin. He subsequently became a partner, adding his name to the firm’s. The firm became Archuleta, Alsaffar & Higginbotham after Alsaffar’s wife, Laurie Higginbotham, joined the firm in late 2006.