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What rights does a patient have in an ER if turned away for medical treatment?

Wilmington, NC |

I took my 2 yr old to ER with a temp of 103.5 verified by triage nurse. 4 hrs later they still had not even ckd us in. I have INS, but was never asked any info abt myself or child. All the nurses & staff kept talking abt how slow it was this night. After 4 hrs of waiting & several vomiting episodes my son became extremely lethargic. When I asked to spk to anyone, triage nurse, head nurse, or someone in mngment. The triage nurse called security and had us removed. I'm afraid my son may have spinal meningitis. Wht can I do abt this blatent disregard for my sons health ? This was at midnight so I had no other medical options at that time.

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Attorney answers 3


There is a federal law called The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) which was passed in 1986 which requires hospitals and ambulance services to provide emergency healthcare treatment to any person that needs it regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay. This law applies to hospitals that accept payment from the Department of Health and Human Services under the Medicare program. From a practical standpoint, EMTALA applies to virtually all hospitals. Most States have also adopted a State EMTALA law which also applies to their hospitals.

EMTALA was passed to fight the problem of "patient dumping", a practice previously employed by hospitals when a patient could not pay or when a hospital would transfer a patient on the basis of high treatment costs. Under this law, a patient can only be discharged when

(i) the condition is resolved or stabilized and the patient is able to provide self-care following discharge; or

(ii) If the hospital does not have the capability to treat the condition, the hospital must make an appropriate transfer to a hospital with such capability; or

(iii) with the patient's informed consent, they may be discharged

Under EMTALA an emergency medical condition is defined as a condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in placing the individual's health in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions or serious dysfunction of bodily organs. Since its original passage Congress has amended EMTALA and the definition of "stable" even further.

In addition to a potential cause of action under federal and local EMTALA regulations, you may also have an outright medical malpractice claim if your child suffered damages as a result of the denial/delay in treatment. You should consult a local experienced medical malpractice attorney immediately.


You may have grounds to sue for medical malpractice. Contact a civil plaintiff's attorney right away.

THESE COMMENTS ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE. They are provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. Answering this question does not create an attorney-client relationship or otherwise require further consultation.


If your child is still having symptoms, I suggest you take him back to the emergency room immediately or to his pediatrician.

Legal Disclaimer:

Mr. Lundeen is licensed to practice law in Florida and Vermont. The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Mr. Lundeen strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in your state in order to insure proper advice is received.

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