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To bring a claim for denial of emergency treatment under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, the plaintiff must show not only that he was suffering from an emergency medical condition, but also that the hospital was aware of the condition, a federal judge has ruled. Although siding with defense lawyers on that legal point, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody refused to dismiss an EMTALA claim in Mazurkiewicz v. Doylestown Hospital after finding that the plaintiff’s lawyer had properly pleaded that the hospital had diagnosed the plaintiff with a condition requiring emergency treatment but had failed to render the care. However, Brody sided with one of the doctors named in the suit in holding that EMTALA claims cannot be brought against individual doctors since the law allows only for suing hospitals. In the suit, Victor Mazurkiewicz claims he was suffering from a life-threatening neck infection that was not properly treated in two separate admissions to Doylestown Hospital, forcing him to return just eight hours after he was discharged to get an emergency tracheotomy. The suit alleges that instead of treating Mazurkiewicz with antibiotics and releasing him, the hospital should have drained the infection to prevent the incident in which it threatened to cut off Mazurkiewicz’s airway. Attorney Aaron Freiwald of Philadelphia-based Layser & Freiwald filed the suit alleging state negligence claims against Doylestown Hospital and four doctors — Douglas Nadel, Daniel Nesi, David Loughran and Alane Beth Torf. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, also alleged federal EMTALA claims against Doylestown Hospital and Nadel. Defense lawyers moved to dismiss the EMTALA claims, arguing that Freiwald was improperly using the law to “federalize” garden-variety state-law medical malpractice claims. The hospital’s lawyer, Joan Orsini Ford of Philadelphia’s Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman and Goggin, argued that Mazurkiewicz had not pleaded a proper EMTALA claim since his emergency medical condition was not diagnosed by hospital staff and, therefore, that the hospital never actually knew of the condition. Brody found that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had not yet ruled on the elements a plaintiff must show to make out an EMTALA claim. But Brody found that the 4th Circuit’s 1992 decision in Baber v. Hospital Corp. of America created a four-prong test that calls for proof that the patient had an emergency medical condition, that the hospital actually knew of that condition, that the patient was not stabilized before being transferred, and that prior to transfer of an unstable patient, the transferring hospital did not obtain the proper consent or follow the appropriate certification and transfer procedures. Similar tests, she said, have been adopted by the 9th, 10th, 11th and District of Columbia Circuits. In Mazurkiewicz’s case, Brody found it was unnecessary to consider the fourth prong of the test since Mazurkiewicz is not complaining about a transfer. Applying the test, Brody found that Mazurkiewicz’s complaint had properly pleaded an EMTALA claim by alleging that the hospital was aware of his condition. “In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that his emergency medical condition was ‘recognized by defendant Doylestown Hospital, its physicians … and the hospital’s medical staff.’ This allegation can be reasonably interpreted to assert that Doylestown Hospital actually knew that plaintiff was suffering from an emergency medical condition,” Brody wrote. But Brody sided with Nadel’s lawyer, Keven H. Wright of Wright Young & McGilvery, who argued that EMTALA claims cannot be brought against individual physicians. Loughran is represented by attorneys Dean F. Murtagh and John E. Toczydlowski of German Gallagher & Murtagh. Torf is also represented by Ford; and Nesi is also represented by Wright.

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