St. Mary's Law Journal


The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) prohibits hospitals from inappropriately transferring or refusing medical care to persons with emergency medical conditions. EMTALA was passed in response to the practice of “dumping” seriously ill patients from private hospitals into public ones, to ensure all patients receive medical treatment in emergency situations. Plaintiffs have attempted to pursue EMTALA claims against non-hospital defendants, but courts have consistently disallowed such claims under the statute. By limiting the scope of its coverage to hospitals, EMTALA creates a situation unique from ordinary medical malpractice. Although hospitals may be held liable for negligent credentialing or supervision of physicians, hospitals are ordinarily not liable for physicians’ conduct or alleged medical malpractice. Under EMTALA, a hospital is liable for the emergency medicine physician’s conduct and decisions, because hospitals can only act by relying on the actions of its licensed physicians and hospital staff. EMTALA does not make physicians agents of the hospital for any purpose other than conduct specified by the statute and does not impute the physician’s tortious conduct regarding diagnosis and treatment to the hospital. Attorneys litigating EMTALA cases must have a clear understanding of the nature and application of every provision in the statute to provide proper representation. A hospital’s conduct must be evaluated based on the specific duty of care associated with each provision of the statute. In contrast, a determination of whether a hospital has breached the duty to stabilize a patient’s condition prior to transfer utilizes a more objective standard. This standard focuses on whether deterioration of the patient’s condition was likely to occur within reasonable medical probability. Though plaintiffs often seek to interject standards of liability based on negligence or medical malpractice, Congress did not intent for EMTALA to address injuries already redressed by state law.


St. Mary's University School of Law