It has been reported that an Alabama patient dumping lawsuit that had been filed in 2013 was settled for an undisclosed sum with the patient’s family on October 6, 2016. The patient died from hypothermia and other complications about a week after he was dumped on a public street by the defendant hospital’s employees when it was in the low 40s outside.
The family’s patient dumping lawsuit alleged that the 24-year-old HIV-positive man was dragged by two of the defendant hospital’s employees from the hospital’s property before he received hospital treatment and dumped on a side street on March 6, 2013. The helpless man was allegedly dressed in only a t-shirt and pajama bottoms while he laid face down on the concrete for more than four hours before a passerby discovered him.
During the opening statements at the beginning of the patient dumping trial on October 5, 2016, the plaintiffs’ attorney showed the jury a video from the hospital’s security cameras that showed the defendant hospital’s employees pushing the man out of his wheelchair and throwing the man’s medications on top of him. After five hours of intense negotiations between the parties’ attorneys on October 6, 2016, the judge dismissed the jury after the settlement was reached.
The defendants in the Alabama patient dumping lawsuit were the hospital, the City of Mobile, and the two hospital employees shown dumping the man on the street.
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (“EMTALA”) was part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). President Reagan signed EMTALA into law on April 7, 1986. Since then, Congress has amended the statute multiple times.
EMTALA was enacted to address the problem of “patient dumping.” Patient dumping refers to the act of hospitals denying individuals emergency medical screening and stabilization services, or transferring them to other hospitals, once a hospital discovers that the patients are uninsured or have no means to pay for treatment. Patient dumping also includes a hospital’s denial of treatment for discriminatory reasons. Certain situations where hospitals fail to screen, treat, or appropriately transfer patients are violations of federal law, including civil rights laws.
Before EMTALA, most hospitals in the United States could refuse treatment to anyone. After EMTALA became law, Medicare-participating hospitals must provide a medical screening exam to any individual who comes to the emergency department and requests examination or treatment for a medical condition. If a hospital determines that an individual has a medical emergency, it must then stabilize the condition or provide for an appropriate transfer. The hospital is obligated to provide these services regardless of the individual’s ability to pay and without delay to inquire about the individual’s method of payment or insurance status. However, there is no obligation upon the hospital to provide any treatment beyond what is necessary to stabilize the patient, nor any prohibition against discharging or transferring the patient elsewhere.
As of 2014, there were 6,181 hospitals in the United States participating in Medicare and/or Medicaid, including 549 psychiatric hospitals and 1,605 short-term acute care hospitals that have a psychiatric inpatient unit. EMTALA applies to all Medicare-participating hospitals that operate a “dedicated emergency department,” and/or has specialized capabilities.
CMS authorizes investigations of patient dumping complaints by State survey agencies or on its own initiative, determines if a violation occurred, and, if appropriate, may terminate a hospital’s provider agreement. The Office of Inspector General assesses civil monetary penalties against hospitals and physicians. The penalties in EMTALA include a maximum fine per violation of $50,000, possible termination of Medicare and Medicaid status, liability for physicians’ actions, and liability in civil suits brought by patients.
Despite the enactment of EMTALA in 1986, patient dumping continued to rise in the 1990s: there was a 390% increase in EMTALA investigations and a 683% increase in findings of EMTALA violations from 1987 to 1998.
If you or a loved one may have been the victim of patient dumping in Alabama or in another U.S. state, you may be entitled to compensation for the injuries, losses, and harm caused by the illegal action.
Click here to visit our website or telephone us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to be connected with patient dumping claim lawyers (medical malpractice lawyers) in your state who may investigate your patient dumping claim for you and represent you in a patient dumping case, if appropriate.
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