EMTALA: Court Allows Claim that Hospitals Failed to Follow Their Own Policies

June 1, 2011 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance


​The U.S. District Court in Nevada has allowed an Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) lawsuit alleging disparate medical screening by two healthcare facilities to proceed, denying their motions for summary judgment and describing the claims as a "heart-wrenching story."

The plaintiffs alleged the following. The patient arrived at an ambulatory care facility with her fiancé, complaining of severe abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. After evaluating the patient, the physician recommended "higher care" at a university medical center. On arrival at the university medical center's emergency department (ED), the patient and her fiancé told staff that the patient might be pregnant and was experiencing the worst pain in her life. When the patient's fiancé attempted to summon staff, security arrived and "made it clear" that there was no certain time when the patient would be seen by a physician. The couple waited in the ED for more than five hours, during which time nursing staff allegedly berated, belittled, and embarrassed them. They left and drove to another hospital. After the couple informed the registration clerk about their five-hour wait at the medical center, the clerk allegedly asked the patient why she believed she would be seen any sooner at this hospital. The couple then returned home, where the patient's amniotic sac broke and she "felt feet hanging from her vagina." Her fiancé called 911 and followed instructions until the paramedics arrived and delivered the infant in breech position. The infant went into distress nearly immediately and was transported to the university medical center, where she was pronounced dead. A nurse there told the plaintiffs that the infant had been born pre-viable, and nothing could have been done to save her. The plaintiffs requested an autopsy by the coroner, on the basis of which they...

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