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Spotting Violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act

Legal Team

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is designed to prevent hospitals for turning a blind eye to our most destitute patients—those who have no health insurance or otherwise cannot pay for the hospital services. Just because someone doesn’t have the means for hospital services doesn’t automatically mean they  don’t deserve services. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor act prevents hospitals from dumping uninsured and poor patients on other hospitals or to the street when the patient has an “emergency medical condition.”

EMTALA law applies universally to all patients including those who have insurance or can pay. EMTALA, however, only applies to those hospitals that have a medical provider agreement with the federal government to provide Medicare services. Of course, EMTALA requires the patient to seek medical help at the hospital for the Act to be triggered.

                EMTALA places two requirements on participating hospitals: (1) determine if the patient has an “emergency medical condition” as defined by the Act and (2) stabilize any patient that is having an emergency medical condition before discharging or transferring the patient.

An “emergency medical condition” is defined as follows:

(A)  a medical 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 result in–

(i)  placing the health of the individual (or, with respect to a pregnant woman, the health of the woman or her unborn child) in serious jeopardy,

(ii)  serious impairment to bodily functions, or

(iii)  serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part; or

(B)  with respect to a pregnant woman who is having contractions–

(i)  that there is inadequate time to affect a safe transfer to another hospital before delivery, or

(ii)  that transfer may pose a threat to the health or safety of the woman or the unborn child.

To determine if a patient has an “emergency condition” as defined above “the hospital must develop a screening procedure designed to identify such critical conditions that exists in symptomatic patients and to apply that screening procedure uniformly to all patients with similar complaints.”

                If the patient has an “emergency condition” as defined by the Act, then the hospital is obligated to do one of the following:

(A) within the staff and facilities available at the hospital, for such further medical examination and such treatment as may be required to stabilize the medical condition, or

(B) for transfer of the individual to another medical facility in accordance with subsection (c) of this section.

If a hospital fails to meet its obligations under EMTALA, then it can be held liable for any damages suffered by the patient.  Under New Mexico’s interpretation of the Act, the patient can make a prima facie showing a violation of the Act if the patient proves that the hospital deviated from its standard screening procedureUnder EMTALA, the hospital, not the doctor, is responsible for up to $50K in fines and is responsible for the personal injuries caused to the patient as a result of the violation in addition to hospital costs. There is no average settlement for these type of cases and damages all vary based on an individual basis. Pain  and  suffering,  emotional  distress,  disfigurement,  hedonic  damages,  loss  of  enjoyment  of  life,  loss  of  consortium,  loss  of  guidance  and  society  to  a  minor are all intangible harms suffered by the patient that are hard to adequately compensate.

 A violation can occur if the hospital determined there was an emergency medical condition and then failed to stabilize the patient or transfer the patient pursuant to the Act’s rules set forth in subsection C of the Act.  There is no requirement that the patient prove the hospital was malicious or had an improper motive when the hospital violated EMTALA.  Further, there is no requirement that the patient prove that she/he was treated differently than other patients (disparate treatment).      

It is very common for hospitals to take advantage of patients’ right because they think they can get away with it. However, the Emergency Medical Treatment Active Labor Act makes it such that a hospital cannot get away with these unfair actions if a patient decides to challenge the hospitals action in court. A petitioner can receive the greater amount of compensation from either fines or damages if they win the case.

Violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment Active Labor Act is considered as other causes of action. For example failure to inform of risks from treatment or alternatives to treatment. The statue of limitations for these type of cases is 2 years, so if you have a case come forward an talk to an attorney as soon as possible within that two year span. For more information on the Emergency Medical Treatment Active Labor Act and personal injury cases please contact a qualified New Mexico personal injury attorney.

The Davis Kelin Law Firm is here to support patients that have been wronged by a hospital that did not follow the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and can be reached at (505) 273-6208.

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