Frequently Asked Questions About the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA)

What is the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA)?

– The Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal statute that places obligations on hospitals to adequately perform emergency medical evaluations using the equipment they have on hand and then stabilize the patient. In the event they cannot stabilize, transfer the patient to a better equipped facility.

Does Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) only cover emergency rooms?

– No, federal case law and administrative decisions have expanded EMTALA over the years to cover many parts of a hospital and medical facility that provide medical examinations.

Are all hospitals obligated to follow EMTALA?

– No, only Medicare participating hospitals can be liable under EMTALA, which covers most hospitals in the United States.

Does the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) apply only to indigent and uninsured patients?

– No, it applies to any patient seeking medical help at a hospital.

Is the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) different than state medical malpractice statutes?

– Yes, the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal statute that places strict liability on hospital personnel who do not follow the exact requirements of the statute. State medical malpractice law requires that you show the hospital personnel were negligent by showing they needlessly endangered you by failing to provide adequate medical care as defined in the surrounding medical community.

Do you have to prove negligence under Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA)?

– No, as discussed above, you only have to prove the hospital did not follow the exact statutory requirements and that the failure caused injury to you or someone you love. It is called strict liability. Not having to prove negligence saves a lot of money in litigation costs and makes the case much easier to win.

Can you sue a hospital under both Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) and state medical malpractice causes of action?

– Yes, although they may arise from the same incident EMTALA and medical malpractice claims are separate causes of action.

Can you recover twice for the same injury under both EMTALA and state medical malpractice laws?

– Sort of. You can sue under both state law and EMTALA. EMTALA has no caps on pain and suffering so you can likely collect much more additional money in the right case for pain and suffering under EMTALA. This is the beauty of the EMTALA, it allows additional / full recovery for a person’s pain and suffering, which can be substantial, sometimes in the millions of dollars or more.

How long do you have to sue under the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA)?

– You have 2 years from date of incident to sue under the EMTALA. In Ohio, under state malpractice law, you only have 1 year. So if you have missed the medical malpractice state statute of limitation you may be able to still sue under EMTALA within 2 years.

Are there caps on damages in the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA)?

– No, so you might collect a lot more for pain and suffering under the federal EMTALA than under a state malpractice law that limits non-economic damages (pain and suffering).

Are there other dangers hospitals face besides a lawsuit from an injured patient under the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA)?

– Yes, a hospital can be fined for violations of the statute. Doctors may have to pay for violations if not covered by their medical malpractice insurance. If the hospital has many violations of EMTALA and does not clean up its act quickly it can lose its Medicare eligibility. This can be the death bell to a hospital that cannot accept Medicare patients.

– In addition, when the federal government comes into a hospital after a claim of EMTALA violation, the government looks for any violation of EMTALA in the patient files they examine, not just the file of the patient from which the allegation came from. Hospitals do not like the federal government looking in their closets so to speak. This creates tremendous leverage to settle the EMTALA and state medical malpractice claim quickly.

Why do hospitals not like EMTALA claims?

– Because it allows the federal government to investigate any aspect of the hospital that may be a violation of EMTALA. Hospitals do not like their dirty laundry aired to federal regulators. In addition, the hospital can lose their Medicare eligibility if there are many violations of EMTALA which are not quickly fixed.

Will the federal government tell the hospital who filed the EMTALA complaint?

– No, EMTALA allows for whistle blower protection.

What are the 3 main requirements placed on a hospital by the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA)?

1. If a person requests medical care from an emergency room or other part of the hospital that provides medical evaluation, the hospital must provide a medical screening evaluation (MSE) looking for emergency medical conditions (EMC).

2. If the medical screening evaluation (MSE) finds an emergency medical condition (EMC) the hospital must stabilize the patient or if they cannot stabilize, transfer to a facility that can stabilize the patient

3. Specialized hospitals (burn units, cardiac care unit) must accept transfer patients from facilities without those special units if the specialized unit has capacity for the patient. This is to prevent reverse dumping.

Can the hospital deny or delay treatment to a patient’s detriment if a patient cannot pay?

– No, this is a violation of EMTALA.

Can the hospital delay treatment to a patient’s detriment to determine if a person’s insurance will pay?

– No, this is a violation of EMTALA.

Must the hospital use its available medical equipment as part of the medical screening evaluation?

– Yes, this includes x-rays, CAT scans, MRI, EMG, EKG, etc. The hospital cannot skip these testing devices just because it knows it will not get paid for them.

Is a violation of the statute by itself enough to collect money?

– No, in a private cause of action under EMTALA you must show the violation caused harm to you or a loved one.

o For example:

  • Leaving an indigent person with observable heart pain in the waiting room for hours which leads to death is a violation of EMTALA.
  • Ignoring head pain on an a patient who appears to be intoxicated which later is discovered to be a brain bleed that leads to death may be a viable cause of action under EMTALA.
  • Giving a group of people involved in a car accident a ‘once over’ ignoring x-rays to look for broken bones, etc. can be a violation of EMTALA if the broken bones lead to more serious injury later on.

What is patient dumping?

– The premature discharge of Medicare or indigent patients from hospitals for economic reasons.

What is reverse patient dumping?

– When a hospital with specialized services, such as burn unit, or level 1 trauma center, refused to take a transfer patient from a facility that does not have that specialized unit and the specialized unit has room for the transfer patient. Refusal would be a violation of EMTALA.

DISCLAIMER: When necessary, Chester Law Group with client consent teams up with litigation co-counsel with trial experience in medical malpractice claims to help clients achieve the best results possible.