Federal Law May Protect Urgent-Care Patients

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA, is a federal law that was put in place to make sure hospitals don’t “dump” emergency patients who may be indigent or uninsured by refusing to examine or treat them or by sending them to other hospitals. Instead, EMTALA requires that hospitals thoroughly screen all patients who report to emergency rooms and, if they are found to have a serious medical condition, to properly stabilize them before transferring or releasing them. Hospitals that fail to comply can be hit with significant fines. Additionally, the patient may be able to bring the hospital to court, obtain damages and have his or her attorney’s fees paid. Plus, depending on the state, patients may have more time to bring a claim under EMTALA than they would have to bring a standard malpractice claim in state court. Now a recent ruling by a federal judge in Rhode Island suggests that EMTALA covers not only emergency-room visits, but also off-campus urgent-care clinics that are affiliated with hospitals. In that case, a 49-year-old woman reported to the urgent/walk-in care clinic at a local hospital complaining of severe chest pain and pain in her right arm. Shortly beforehand, she’d texted co-workers that she was going to the “ER” to get checked out for possible heart-attack symptoms. The doctor diagnosed her with reflux and she was sent home with a “gastrointestinal cocktail.” She died the next day of cardiovascular disease. Her estate sued the hospital that operated the clinic for both malpractice and for violation of EMTALA. The hospital tried to get the case thrown out, arguing that EMTALA didn’t apply because the clinic wasn’t an “emergency care facility.” But the judge disagreed, finding that because it held itself out as treating emergency medical conditions on an urgent basis without a scheduled appointment, it fit the definition. In fact, the court said, this particular patient, based on her texts to co-workers, thought she was going to an ER when she visited the clinic. Thus her estate’s claim could proceed.


About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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