EMTALA claim only available for hospitals and patients

In Pujol-Alvarez v. Grupo Hima-San Pablo, Inc., Civil No. 15-1746 (FAB) (D.P.R. Apr. 13, 2017), the court discusses the provisions of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd.

Surviving family members of Ernesto Pujol, filed suit against HIMA, and several physicians pursuant to the EMTALA.  Plaintiffs claimed that defendants’ negligence, medical malpractice, and delayed treatment of Mr. Pujol’s acute pancreatitis resulted in his death. Plaintiffs sought relief for emotional damages and for alleged statutory  violations.

Defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that EMTALA only creates a cause of action for the patient and not for the relatives of that patient, and that the uncontested facts showed that no  violations occurred. The Court granted defendants motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiffs’ EMTALA claims against all parties.  In its opinion, the Court noted that:

  • EMTALA requires covered hospitals to screen any visitor to a hospital emergency room for an emergency medical condition and to stabilize visitors suffering from an emergency condition prior transfer to another healthcare facility or discharge.
  • The screening provision requires that the hospital “provide for an appropriate medical screening examination within the capability of the hospital’s emergency department, including ancillary services routinely available to the emergency department.
  • The purpose of the law was not to guarantee that all patients are properly diagnosed, or even to ensure that they receive adequate care, but instead to provide an ‘adequate first response to a medical crisis’
  • A hospital meets its  screening duty if it (1) provides “an examination ‘reasonably calculated to identify critical medical conditions that may be afflicting symptomatic patients,'” and (2) “‘provides that level of screening uniformly to all those who present substantially similar complaints.
  • The civil enforcement provision of EMTALA, however, applies only to participating hospitals, not physicians.
  • EMTALA does not create a federal cause of action for medical malpractice.
  • Plaintiffs did not allege that they inherited the deceased own EMTALA claim. Rather, they pursued personal claims for emotional damages suffered; for which they lacked  standing to bring their private causes of action pursuant EMTALA.
  • There were no facts  showing that defendants provided unreasonable care in screening of the patient or that defendants discharged or transferred him.