Volume 87, Number 2

May 2012

Judicial Resolution of EMTALA Screening Claims at Summary Judgment

Nathan S. Richards

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal statute that requires hospitals to screen and, if necessary, treat and stabilize every individual who comes to the emergency department. To comply with EMTALA, a hospital’s screening must be performed uniformly for patients with similar symptoms. Courts have undermined the statute’s effectiveness, however, by routinely granting summary judgment to defendant hospitals charged with EMTALA screening violations. The ease with which hospitals prevail at the summary judgment stage fails to remedy and deter disparities in care. Moreover, it discourages emergency departments from using written protocols. The implementation of written guidelines for emergency-department care can significantly improve EMTALA’s effectiveness by making violations more easily ascertainable, encouraging hospitals to self-regulate, and substantially improving hospital care. This Note argues for a greater evidentiary burden on hospitals that would require a hospital, before it can be granted summary judgment, to elucidate explicitly the elements of its uniform screening procedure and demonstrate affirmatively that this procedure was employed during the plaintiff’s emergency room examination.