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home / healthcare / press releases

Jan 07, 1999

CONTACT: Jamie Court - 310-392-0522 x327

Hospitals Violating Federal Patient Dumping Laws Should Not Have Limited Liability Under Malpractice Shield

CA Supreme Court Court Asked Not To Protect Hospital
WHERE: 350 McCallister Street San Francisco, CA
New Supreme Court Room

WHEN: 11 A.M.; Friday January 8, 1998

Consumers for Quality Care will argue before the California Supreme Court tomorrow morning that hospitals should not have limited liability under state medical malpractice statutes when they transfer patients without stabilizing them in order to avoid the costs of such care, which may not be reimbursed by managed care plans.

This is a landmark case which will determine the integrity of federal patient dumping laws. Sharon Arkin -- a volunteer attorney -- will argue on Consumers For Quality Care's behalf that the Emergency Medical Treatment And Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is an administrative decision, not medical one, and therefore should not be limited by malpractice shields. The California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 or MICRA caps damages for victims' pain and suffering at $250,000.

A new bulletin by the United States Inspector General and Health Care Financing Administration expressed the government's concerns that managed care plans are controlling hospitals decisions over when to transfer patients, but this does not allow the hospitals to disregard their obligations under EMTALA.

The case at issue -- Dawnell Barris vs. County of Los Angeles -- involved an infant with a very high fever who was discharged from a hospital without being given antibiotics or stabilization in order to be transported to an HMO hospital because it was not clear the HMO would pay for care otherwise. The eighteen month old infant died twenty minutes after arrival at the HMO hospital due to overwhelming infection, which could have been stopped. The jury awarded $1.350,000 for general damages, but the judge held that MICRA applied and reduced the whole award to $250,000. The Court of Appeal affirmed. In another case, however, the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California held that MICRA did not apply to EMTALA. The Supreme Court accepted hearing. Consumers For Quality Care filed a brief in the case.


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