Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession(4)3 Dec 95


  Quick Summary: Although the intent of the U.S. Congress in enacting the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act was to prevent hospitals from refusing to see indigent and/or uninsured individuals in emergency departments, and to prevent hospitals from "dumping" such patients upon other facilities, there is nothing in the Act even to suggest that an improper motive must be demonstrated on the hospital’s part in order for a patient denied his or her rights under the Act to prevail in a civil lawsuit against the hospital, according to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia.

   In addition to indigence and lack of medical insurance, other factors such as race, sex, ethnic origin, politics, occupation, education, various personal prejudices and drunkenness might be motives standing in the way of hospitals declining to provide proper care in the emergency room. However, according to the court, the motive for a departure from standard screening procedures is not important to the legal analysis of civil cases brought against hospitals under the EMTALA. The law applies whenever and for whatever reason a patient is denied the same level of care provided others and guaranteed by the EMTALA.

   There is no requirement that a person who wishes to sue under the EMTALA prove that he or she was indigent or uninsured, or that any particular improper motive entered into the hospital’s decision to turn the person away without rendering appropriate care as mandated by the EMTALA. Power vs. Arlington Hospital Assn., 42 F.3d 851 (4th Cir., 1994).

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