Emergency departments are the front lines of medical care. They are where people should be able to go when they need life-saving care, regardless of race, ethnicity, or whether they have health insurance.
The belief in the importance of emergency medical care has been enshrined in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law that makes it illegal for emergency rooms to refuse treatment based on a patient’s ethnicity, ability to pay, or insurance status, and requires that emergency room doctors provide a medical screening to determine whether a patient is truly experiencing an emergency condition.
What Is EMTALA?
EMTALA, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law which requires that hospitals provide emergency department patients with a medical screening exam to determine whether a patient has an emergency medical condition, and to provide treatment that will stabilize and threat the patient. If an emergency is found, the treating physician is obligated to stabilize or transfer the patient, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, ethnicity, or insurance status.
EMTALA was passed in 1986 as part of COBRA (the “Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act”) and was intended to prevent “patient dumping” - the practice of transferring uninsured or Medicaid patients without providing a minimum amount of care.
EMTALA defines an emergency as “a condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to in placing the individual’s health [or the health of an unborn child] in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of bodily organs.”
EMTALA is triggered when a patient comes to the emergency room.
Hospitals have three primary responsibilities under EMTALA:
The hospital must provide a medical screening or examination to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, ethnicity, or insurance status
If an emergency condition does exist, the hospital must provide treatment until the medical condition is resolved or stabilized or, if the hospital does not have the capability to treat the condition, the patient is transferred to another appropriate hospital
Hospitals with specialized capabilities are required to accept transfers from hospitals that do not have the capability to treat unstable emergency medical conditions
What Happens if a Hospital Violates EMTALA?
EMTALA is a federal statute that was intended to prevent discriminatory screening practices in emergency rooms. EMTALA violations may be punished by:
Termination of the hospital or physician’s Medicare provider agreement
Fines of up to $50,000 for hospitals and physicians
The hospital may be sued in a personal injury claim
Failure to screen a patient can lead to fines of up to $50,000, and may subject both the physician and the hospital to claims of medical malpractice.
There is a 2-year statute of limitations for civil enforcement of an EMTALA violation. However, Ohio’s 1-year medical malpractice statute of limitations may apply and is considerably shorter.
Is an EMTALA Violation Grounds for a Medical Malpractice Claim?
EMTALA provides a basis for suing a hospital and, in certain circumstances, may serve as the basis for a lawsuit against an individual physician.
Courts have consistently ruled that EMTALA is not a federal malpractice statute. However, a patient who is injured as a result of a hospital’s failure to provide care under EMTALA may have a claim against the hospital or emergency room doctor under state medical malpractice laws.
Even if the EMTALA violation does not serve as the basis of a medical malpractice claim itself, a hospital or emergency room physician’s failure to provide appropriate care may rise to the level of medical malpractice.
Because every case is unique, the only way to know whether you have a claim for medical malpractice is to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. If you believe that you or someone you care about was injured or killed as a result of a failure to receive appropriate care in an emergency room, schedule a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as quickly as possible to determine whether you have a claim.
Do Patients Have Rights Under EMTALA?
If you or someone you care about has been the victim of an EMTALA violation, also known as patient dumping, you have rights under state and federal law. Patient dumping is against the law, and is a serious violation of public safety considerations. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you decide whether to pursue a case, and whether you have a claim under EMTALA or other state medical malpractice laws.
Robenalt Law Fights for Victims of Medical Malpractice
At Robenalt Law, our experienced medical malpractice attorneys fight for people who have been injured as a result of medical malpractice.
If you or someone you love was injured or killed as a result of medical negligence, you and your family might be entitled to compensation, including:
Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing doctors and hospitals at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help victims and the families of those injured by negligent health care providers.
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