Patient-Dumping Law|Has Limits, Circuit Rules

     (CN) – The 3rd Circuit denied the appeal of a diabetic woman whose baby was born with severe brain damage in a case that “tests the boundaries” of a federal law against patient dumping.

     Pennsylvania resident Honey Torretti sued Main Line Hospitals and several doctors under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act after her second child was born with brain damage.
     She had complained of pain and discomfort during a routine outpatient checkup with her doctor, who sent her to a hospital for additional monitoring. There, she gave birth via emergency caesarean section to a son with “traumatic brain injuries.”
     Congress enacted the EMTALA in the 1980s to stop emergency rooms from, among other things, refusing care to patients and transferring them to other hospitals without stabilizing them first, a practice known as patient dumping.
     The Pennsylvania district court granted Main Line Hospitals summary judgment, ruling that Torretti had not presented sufficient evidence that her doctor knew a medical emergency was imminent when he sent her to another hospital for monitoring.
     The Philadelphia-based appeals court agreed.
     “This appeal tests the boundaries of EMTALA, which is not a federal malpractice statute,” Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote. “Given these circumstances, relief for (the child’s) traumatic brain injuries may be available in other forms, but is not provided under EMTALA.”
     Torretti argued that because she is a diabetic and had a high-risk pregnancy, each visit to her doctor would qualify as “presentment of an emergency medical condition to trigger EMTALA coverage.”
     But such a trigger would broaden the scope of the Act “beyond Congress’s intent,” Ambro said, creating a reality where the Act would cover hospital outpatients who have routinely scheduled appointments for dialysis or chemotherapy.
     “We believe it is clear that Congress did not intend EMTALA to cover these individuals every time they come to the hospital for their appointments, even though they suffer from serious medical conditions that risk becoming emergent,” Ambro said.

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