An active-duty staff sergeant wounded in the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood is planning to join a large civil suit seeking to classify the shooting as a terrorist act.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler and his wife, Jessica Zeigler, will likely join 105 co-plaintiffs next week in a federal civil suit that claims government negligence played a significant role in the shooting.
Accused shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan allegedly shot Zeigler four times during the massacre at the post’s Soldier Readiness Center. A gunshot to his head temporarily paralyzed Zeigler and led to a long and arduous recovery.
The lawsuit claims the government could have prevented the shooting had agents acted upon intelligence indicating that Hasan had become a violent Islamic extremist.
Temple attorney John Roark said he has been in contact with lawyers in New York and Washington, D.C., representing plaintiffs from across the U.S. in the suit. Roark said he and the Zeiglers will likely join the lawsuit, but not until after they see that everyone’s interests are aligned.
At issue for the plaintiffs is the Pentagon and FBI’s classification of the shooting as “workplace violence.” The distinction decreases the amount of benefits available to soldiers injured in a terrorist attack. Labeling the attack as terrorism also would make victims eligible for Purple Hearts.
“The benefit is larger and the quality of care is better,” Roark said. “That is essentially what we are asking for.”
The Zeiglers also are known as being the recipients of a home from the ABC television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Volunteers and fundraisers built the couple a home outside Salado in 2010.
The couple still owns the home but is in Maryland now while Zeigler continues to undergo treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Roark said.
A large obstacle facing the plaintiffs is a 62-year-old Supreme Court case that prohibits members of the military from suing the government for injuries sustained in military activities, Roark said.
The legal precedent, known as the Feres Doctrine, has since expanded to include civilians working in conjunction with the armed forces and defense contractors in certain cases.
Roark said the ultimate goal of the lawsuit may be to overturn the repeatedly affirmed Supreme Court case; however, his clients only wish to receive benefits equal to those given to soldiers wounded by enemy action.
The lawsuit places different parts of the government in conflict with each other.
Military prosecutors for Hasan, a co-defendant in the lawsuit, have sought to label the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist as a “home-grown terrorist” in order to garner a death sentence.
At the same time, the Justice Department will likely fight to maintain its current classification as “workplace violence.”
Each plaintiff is seeking a minimum of $75,000 in punitive damages.