8115 – The Court Chases an Ambulence


If a hospital emergency room either won’t let you in or makes you get out, you can sue under something called EMTALA, which stands for the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.  But how about if letting somebody out results in harm to a third person?  This tragic case involved a husband who’d been admitted to an emergency room with psychiatric problems.  Ten days later he hunted down his wife and killed her.  The wife’s estate sued alleging the hospital violated EMTALA by releasing the husband from the hospital prematurely.  The law says any individual who suffers personal harm can obtain damages.  The hospital argued the word “individual” means the patient, not third persons.  The Court that first heard the case agreed, but the Sixth Circuit reversed holding the words “any individual” mean patient and non-patient alike.  The hospital also argued that EMTALA only covers cases where proper emergency care wasn’t given, but the Court said the patient obviously shouldn’t have been released when he was.  So EMTALA rules and liability has come to life.

Moses v. Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, Inc., Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 07-2111, April 6, 2009, U.S. Law Week, Vol. 77, No. 40, Pg. 1641, 4-21-09