Patient Anti-Dumping Statutes – Recent Lawsuit

In recent news, on December 23, 2009, a federal lawsuit was filed against University Medical Center and Valley Hospital in Las Vegas. The suit alleges that a woman and her husband arrived at the UMC emergency room on November 30, 2009 with severe abdominal pain and waited for six hours without being treated or examined. Ultimately, it turned out that the woman was pregnant and, after leaving the hospital without being assessed or provided any treatment, she gave birth at home to a baby girl. The baby was approximately 26 weeks along at the time of the unexpected breach birth. The lawsuit alleges that paramedics assisted with the breach birth and that “the baby took a few spontaneous respirations and then went into distress.” According to the allegations in the lawsuit, the baby girl died shortly thereafter.

The couple claims that UMC’s actions violated the Emergency Medical Treatment & Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Congress enacted EMTALA to prevent patient dumping, which is the practice of private-hospital emergency rooms refusing to treat indigent patients by transferring them to a public hospital or turning them away. EMTALA allows for civil actions against the hospital that committed the offense. Under EMTALA, when a patient presents to the emergency room and requests treatment, the hospital: (1) must conduct an adequate medical screening of persons visiting the hospital’s emergency room, and (2) a hospital cannot transfer to another hospital patients whose medial conditions have not been stabilized.

EMTALA is a federal statute that applies across the county; however, Texas has a similar statute that prevents patient dumping in emergency scenarios. Under the Texas Health & Safety Code, an officer, employee, or medical staff member of a general hospital cannot deny emergency services to a person merely because that person cannot establish the ability to pay for the services or because of that person’s race, religion, or national ancestry if: (1) the services are available at the hospital and (2) the person is diagnosed by a licensed physician as requiring those services.

When hospitals engage in denying emergency treatment to those in need, there are statutes that can be used to address the damages that are caused by the offending hospital. If you or a loved one has been denied necessary emergency medical care at an emergency room, which results in injury or death, you should contact Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner for a free consultation.