Health Law Daily Admission to hospital ends EMTALA liability, untimely filing dismisses malpractice claims
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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Admission to hospital ends EMTALA liability, untimely filing dismisses malpractice claims

By Susan L. Smith, JD, MA

Court dismissed an Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act claim because the patient was admitted for treatment and state medical malpractice claims that were not timely filed.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Act Labor Act (EMTALA) (42 U.S.C. §1395dd) challenge brought against a health system by a father whose son died failed because the hospital admitted his son (decedent) to the hospital and the lawsuit was not timely filed. The father alleged that the health system provided deficient medical care. The court dismissed the EMTALA claim finding that the father did not sufficiently plead that the decedent was not stable when he was discharged from the hospital and the decedent was admitted as an inpatient, therefore the hospital was not liable. In addition, the court concluded that the father’s state medical malpractice claims were not filed within the state law statute of limitations and granted the hospital’s motion to dismiss but with permission to amend the complaint (Ollison v. Alameda Health System, December 8, 2020, Beeler L.).

The father’s statement of events. The decedent went to the hospital on February 18, 2019, because of acute respiratory distress. The hospital admitted him as an overnight inpatient where a physician diagnosed him with acute asthma exacerbation and an upper respiratory infection and noted that the decedent was out of his inhaler. When the hospital determined that the decedent was a member of a different health plan and it would not receive full payment for its emergency services because the hospital was out of network, the hospital discharged him. At the time of discharge, the hospital acknowledged that the decedent was still experiencing acute respiratory distress. The hospital refused to provide necessary medications and told the decedent to go to his health plan provider. The decedent, however, was not able to get to his health plan provider.

A few days later, a family member called 911 when the decedent suffered another episode of respiratory distress. Paramedics, identified as duly authorized agents of the hospital where the patient had gone for treatment, chose not to render any emergency medical treatment to the decedent, including checking for vital signs. He was still alive when he was placed in the ambulance but went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital. At that time, the paramedics administered medical treatment and monitored his respiratory distress but he was not given oxygen in the ambulance or when he arrived at the emergency room of the hospital. As a result of the prolonged lack of oxygen, he suffered adverse medical conditions and died on February 28, 2019. The father made a written claim under California’s Government Claims Act (Cal. Gov’t §945.6(a)(1) and (2)) to the hospital on June 8, 2019, which the hospital rejected on August 23, 2019. He filed his lawsuit on July 21, 2020.

The EMTALA claim. The court noted that, under EMTALA, hospital emergency rooms have a duty to screen a patient for an emergency condition and a duty to stabilize the patient before transferring or discharging him or her if an emergency condition is found. EMTALA’s stabilization requirement ends when an individual is admitted for inpatient care. The court concluded that the father did not "plausibly plead" that the decedent was not stable when he was discharged from the hospital and his statement acknowledged that the decedent was admitted as an inpatient. Admission into the hospital ends liability under EMTALA. Therefore, the court dismissed the EMTALA claim.

The state claims. The court agreed with the hospital’s contention that the father’s state medical malpractice claims are not timely because the lawsuit was not filed within six months after the hospital denied the father’s written claim under California’s Government Claims Act. The court rejected the father’s contention that the time to file the lawsuit was extended by the time he was in jail (November 29, 2019 to March 24, 2020) because he was not in custody when the hospital rejected his claim. Even if the father had filed the lawsuit by six months after the hospital rejected his claim, the filing was untimely under the statute of limitations because it was more than one year after his son’s death (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §340.5). Finally, the court concluded that the father failed to comply with California’s survival statute requirements for the EMTALA and state claims by not filing a certified copy of the death certificate and an affidavit or declaration of required information. The court granted the hospital’s motion to dismiss but allowed the father to file an amended complaint.

The case is No. 20-cv-04944-LB.

Attorneys: James Ollison, pro se. Michael C. Austin (Galloway, Lucchese, Everson and Picchi) for Alameda Health Systems d/b/a Highland Hospital. Meredith Dawn Stewart (Clausen Miller, PC) for Paramedics Plus.

Companies: Alameda Health Systems d/b/a Highland Hospital; Paramedics Plus

MainStory: TopStory CaseDecisions IPPSNews EMTALANews CaliforniaNews

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