In April, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided in reviewing a Michigan case that the representative of a deceased woman could sue a hospital under EMTALA for allegedly releasing her husband after admission to the hospital, when he was then hallucinating, disoriented, and behaving in a threatening manner toward her when he was brought to the emergency department. Five days after admission, it was decided that the husband should be transferred to a facility for the acutely mentally ill. However, the transfer did not occur and he was, instead, released seven days after admission. Ten days later, he murdered his wife.
In the trial court, the hospital filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that only the individual patient seeking treatment may sue under EMTALA and that the hospital has no further EMTALA obligation once it admits the patient as an inpatient. This second reason is presently the subject of disagreement among federal courts of appeal.
The trial court decided that regardless of whether or not a non-patient can sue under EMTALA, the suit against the hospital could not go forward because the patient was screened in the emergency room and no emergency medical condition was recognized. The Court of Appeal reversed this decision and returned the case to the trial court.
The Sixth Circuit reasoned that a non-patient can be an EMTALA plaintiff. The Court stated that “any individual who suffers personal harm as a direct result of a hospital’s EMTALA violation may sue.” Such an individual is not limited to the patient. The Court dismissed “an isolated statement in a [congressional] committee report to the contrary.”
On the question of whether the hospital’s EMTALA obligation ends once a patient is admitted, the Court said no. The patient who presents with an emergency medical condition must be stabilized, not just admitted and tested. The hospital may not admit and then discharge to avoid its stabilization requirement. The Court took this position despite the existence of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation to the contrary. The Court reasoned that the CMS regulation does not comport with the language of EMTALA.
This case can be found at Moses v. Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, Inc., 561 F.3d 573 (6th Cir. 4/6/09). A petition for further review was filed with the United States Supreme Court in October, 2009. The Supreme Court apparently has not yet decided whether it will accept the case.