Emergency Room Negligence in Alabama – EMTALA Claims
Emergency room negligence is fairly common in Alabama. Most Alabama hospitals use outside contractors to staff the emergency department and the doctors sometimes work very long shifts with few breaks. Additionally, the emergency room physicians are not usually board-certified in disciplines such as neurology, orthopedics or other areas and may not be qualified to address less well-known injuries and illnesses. Finally, many hospitals provide very limited doctor-patient contact, with the majority of the contact being between a patient and the nursing staff. If you or a loved one have been injured by the negligence of a nurse or doctor at the hospital’s emergency room, our Birmingham personal injury lawyers share a few options open to you under Alabama and federal law.
In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) to address patient dumping and refusal to treat situations in hospitals. For the most part, the EMTALA act provides a remedy in emergency room negligence incidents where a hospital either refuses to treat someone or simply discharges them prematurely. At a minimum, EMTALA requires hospitals to treat someone, regardless of the ability to pay, and stabilize their condition. Hospitals may not discharge a patient prematurely, without making sure they are stable and their condition no longer life-threatening. A hospital can lose its Medicare-Medicaid accreditation if they discharge a patient in an unstable condition, so generally speaking, emergency departments will make some effort to provide basic stabilizing treatment even if the patient has no health insurance. EMTALA provides basic personal injury compensation to victims who have been injured by an emergency room’s failure to treat them, including pain and suffering, mental anguish and even punitive damages.
EMTALA cases are rarely filed in Alabama and only a few experienced Alabama EMTALA lawyers exist.
ALABAMA MEDICAL LIABILITY ACT
As with the other 49 states, Alabama has enacted a medical malpractice framework that allows victims of emergency room negligence to sue if they have been injured due to malpractice. A Plaintiff must prove that the nurse or doctor breached the standard of care and that they were injured as a direct result of the breach (sometimes called proximate cause). Medical malpractice cases are extremely difficult to prove and win in Alabama. One, Alabama physicians will not testify against other Alabama physicians. Two, malpractice insurance carriers usually refuse to settle simply as a strategic business decision. Finally, jury instructions given to the jurors by the trial judge are biased in favor of the hospital as a result of years of tort reform.
However, if the emergency room negligence is plain and egregious, with a resulting catastrophic injury, these cases can be won with an experienced Birmingham medical malpractice attorney.