Can You Sue for Being Denied Medical Treatment?
New York State guarantees medical treatment for patients, but not absolutely. There are numerous exceptions that allow healthcare providers to deny a patient medical treatment. Unfortunately, care is often denied when it should not have been, which leads to patient suffering and death. In these cases, you can sue medical providers for failing to provide you with the care you deserve.
So if you are in need of medical care in New York, under which circumstances can healthcare providers and hospitals deny you care, and when can you sue upon unjust denial? Ultimately, it depends on the circumstances.
Denial of Hospital Care
Can you be denied medical treatment at a hospital? The answer is yes and no. If you are seeking non-emergency treatment at a hospital, the hospital can deny your treatment if you don’t have the resources to pay, for example. However, if you are seeking emergency medical care, it is likely that the hospital must treat your emergency.
The reason why most hospitals must treat emergency patients is because of EMTALA. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires all hospitals with emergency room departments to attend to patients with emergency issues. The statute was passed to put an end to the hospital practice of dumping patients on other hospitals for inability to pay.
Further, once a hospital receives a patient into care, it is responsible for caring for that patient until the patient has been stabilized. Once stabilized, the hospital may discharge, transfer, or even refuse to treat the patient further.
There is an exception, though. If a hospital does not participate in the Medicare program, it is exempt from EMTALA requirements. However, the vast majority of hospitals in New York and the U.S. participate in Medicare.
Valid Reasons for Denying Hospital Care
Since hospitals are businesses, their leaders must make business decisions that keep the hospital healthy financially. Turning away patients for lack of resources is a common practice to stay above water. Although it may seem unjust or cruel to turn a needy patient away, many argue that hospitals must do so in order to survive.
But financial concerns are not the only reason for legitimately denying medical treatment to a patient. Other reasons might include:
- The hospital lacks the necessary equipment or personnel to treat the patient’s condition
- The hospital reasonably believes that the patient’s needs would be better met at a different facility
- The hospital is under an emergency situation
- The patient is aggressive or abusive
- The patient is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and not experiencing an emergency
However, if the hospital is fully functioning with qualified personnel and equipment, and the patient is in a normal, civilized state, the hospital should treat the patient if they can pay.
Some specific reasons that a hospital may not deny a patient medical treatment include:
- A patient’s race, sex, culture, or religion
- The source of the patient’s money
- A patient’s socioeconomic status
- A patient’s disability
- A patient’s national origin
Although these rules exist, some hospitals continue to unlawfully refuse to treat certain patients. When they do, many of these patients struggle to find appropriate care while their injuries or conditions worsen. They also experience significant losses, many of which are compensable in a medical malpractice suit.
Denial of Medical Treatment by a Doctor
Outside of the hospital context, are doctors permitted to deny medical treatment? The answer is yes. But just as with hospitals, doctors must have reasonable grounds for refusing to treat someone. The same illegitimate reasons for hospital denials listed above also apply to doctors.
But as with hospitals, doctors have financial concerns, and many have major financial investments in their practices. Taking on too many patients who cannot pay would financially strain any operation and potentially put it out of business. And since doctors’ practices typically do not have emergency rooms, they can refuse emergency patients as well.
What about when the doctor is out in a public place and someone falls ill or injured and asks the doctor for help? Does the doctor have an obligation to attend to that person? The answer is no.
Doctors can deny medical treatment whenever they want as long as no special relationship exists between the doctor and the person requesting aid. However, once the doctor voluntarily begins administering care, they must continue to care for the person until that person is stabilized or another qualified professional takes over.
A Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help
If you have been denied care and do not fall into certain categories that allow for it, you can and should pursue legal action against medical providers.
If you have wrongfully been denied medical treatment, we understand your pain. Our medical malpractice lawyers are here to listen and review your case at no charge. Contact Silberstein, Awad & Miklos to discuss what we can do to help you get justice.