Louisiana Medical Malpractice Case Examines Federal Antidumping Laws

A recent case arising from occurrences in West Carroll Hospital considers the Louisiana and federal antidumping laws. In addition, it also explains the requirements for a case under medical malpractice. Several hospitals were involved in the case, but only two were actually involved in the suit. A woman who had serious kidney and urinary problems was admitted to West Carroll Hospital; however, once the hospital realized that they did not have the specialized equipment to treat her, they desperately tried to find somewhere to transfer her that did have the ability to help her. After several days of miscommunications, the woman died because they could not transfer her fast enough to address her medical issues. Her six daughters then attempted to find some kind of remedy against the hospitals for the wrongful death of their mother.

In Louisiana, La. R.S. 40:2113.4-2113.6, the “antidumping law,” requires hospitals to take patients who need emergency services and live in the territorial area regardless of whether they are able to pay for their care or if they have insurance. Federal law has the same type of requirement under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act even specifies that hospitals cannot turn away patients who have Medicare or Medicaid, and hospitals cannot discriminate based on race, religion, economic status, or national ancestry.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act further defines “emergency” as a “physical condition which the person in imminent danger of death or permanent disability.” The definition of “emergency services,” then, is “those services which are available in the emergency room and surgical units in order to sustain the person’s life and prevent disablement until the person is in a condition to travel.” Louisiana law requires that the patient be stabilized before they are moved to another facility. However, the Louisiana antidumping law does not permit a private cause of action. That is, an individual cannot sue the hospital for a violation of this law. Even if they could, however, the first hospital, West Carroll, admitted her without incident, so there would be no claim under the antidumping law.

However, federal law prohibits “reverse dumping” as well. The prohibition on reverse dumping requires that a specialized hospital “shall not refuse to accept an appropriate transfer of an individual who requires such specialized capabilities or facilities if the hospital has the capacity to treat the individual.” As a result, the plaintiffs, the patient’s six daughters, would have had a claim under the reverse dumping limitation. Unfortunately, the plaintiffs did not make an argument under federal law, so they could not claim a violation of the reverse dumping prohibition.

Next, the plaintiffs attempted to argue medical malpractice on behalf of both hospitals. In order to prove medical malpractice in Louisiana, they have to show 1) the standard of care required by the hospital; 2) that the hospital violated that standard of care; and 3) that there was a causal connection between the violation and the resulting injury. As a rule, because the average person does not understand the medical field, the appropriate standard of care is usually determined by expert testimony at trial. In this case, however, several experts testified and they were unable to determine not only the standard of care that would have been required, but they also could not pinpoint exactly what caused the patient’s death.

West Carroll admitted the patient, they transferred her to another hospital, Conway, because their superior services would be better able to stabilize her condition. However, once it became apparent that the patient would need surgery, they attempted to move her once again. They tried to get her into St. Francis, and St. Francis initially accepted her, but then later cancelled the acceptance because they did not have a bed open. But, there was some evidence that they actually did have a bed open, and they are unsure why the transfer was cancelled. The experts argued about whether she would have survived if they had not cancelled the transfer.

Both of the hospitals filed for a motion for Summary Judgment. Summary judgment is only appropriate where there are no fact discrepancies and one side could be granted a favorable result based on those facts. Since the court found that the experts did not agree on the cause, they sent the case back down to the lower court so that the lower court could make that determination. However, the court dismissed the claims based on the antidumping laws because there was no private right of action under Louisiana law.

It is important to know which laws allow a private right of action. In addition, diving into the facts to determine the actual cause of medical malpractice claims is equally significant.

The experienced attorneys at The Berniard Law Firm can help you make this determination if you or your loved ones have been injured. Call us today.