Health Law Daily No expert testimony rebuttal sinks screening suit
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Friday, October 21, 2016

No expert testimony rebuttal sinks screening suit

By Anthony H. Nguyen, J.D.

Claims that a hospital violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) when it performed "inadequate screening" were dismissed by a federal court because the individual failed to raise a triable issue of fact for trial. The individual offered no expert testimony to support its assertion that the hospital conducted an "inappropriate medical examination." The individual also failed to make an argument about why the hospital’s conduct was not designed to identify emergency medical conditions in order to raise a triable issue of fact. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment and declined to exercise pendant jurisdiction over remaining state law claims (Morales v. Palomar Health, October 20, 2016, Curiel, G.).

Background. Under EMTALA, specifically 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd, hospitals have a continuing duty to provide a certain level of minimum care appropriate to detect and treat emergency conditions. Once an individual arrives at a hospital’s emergency department seeking an examination, or treatment, for a medical condition, the hospital must: (1) provide for an appropriate medical screening examination to determine whether or not an emergency medical condition exists; and (2) if an emergency condition exists, the hospital must perform stabilizing treatment.

In the Ninth Circuit, a screening is "appropriate" within the meaning of EMTALA if the screening is comparable to the one offered to other patients presenting similar symptoms, unless the examination is so cursory that it is not designed to identify acute and severe symptoms that alert the physician of the need for immediate medical attention to prevent serious bodily injury.

No evidence. The hospital provided the court with a copy of its EMTALA policy and an expert report opining on the sufficiency of that policy. Conversely, the individual failed to present any evidence, expert or otherwise, in support of arguments that the hospital’s course of treatment was insufficient within the meaning of EMTALA. To avoid summary judgment, the burden is on the individual to rebut evidence that the hospital provided and demonstrate that a genuine dispute of material fact existed as to whether or not the hospital provided an appropriate medical screening examination.

The remaining claims were state medical malpractice claims and defenses governed by California law. The court saw no nexus between these claims and questions of federal policy. Thus, it declined to exercise jurisdiction as there was no federal interest served by proceeding with the state law causes of action.

The case is No. 3:14-cv-0164-GPC-MDD.

Attorneys: Mitchel Olson (Law Office of Mitchel J. Olson) for Yaret Morales. William Albert Miller (Higgs Fletcher & Mack LLP) for Palomar Health.

Companies: Palomar Health

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