Emergency Triage Assessment Not a Medical Screening Exam Under Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act

A man went to a hospital emergency room and was found to be suffering from a subdural hematoma. Surgery was performed and the man was discharged six days later. Four days later he returned to the ER complaining of a severe headache. After various tests were performed, he was discharged because his condition was determined to be non-emergent. The next day he was taken to an ER at another hospital, where it was determined that the surgical site was infected.


The man and his wife sued the hospital for violating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) during his second ER visit. The plaintiffs claimed that the hospital failed to provide an appropriate medical screening and treatment stabilizing his condition prior to discharging him. They also asserted a theory of liability based on negligence per se related to the EMTALA violations. The hospital filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted. The plaintiffs appealed.


The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The court explained that the EMTALA is not a federal medical malpractice or negligence statute. Rather, the EMTALA requires that, when an individual presents at a hospital emergency room requesting treatment of a medical condition, the hospital must provide for an appropriate medical screening examination within the capability of the hospital's emergency department to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists. Then, if the screening reveals such a condition, the individual must be provided with stabilizing treatment. The ER’s triage assessment was not a “medical screening examination” under the EMTALA, but is preliminary to that examination.


Because the summary judgment evidence showed that the ER physician determined that the plaintiff’s condition was non-emergent during the triage assessment, the hospital did not have a duty under the EMTALA to stabilize him prior to discharge.


See: Stiles v. Tenet Hospitals Ltd., 2012 WL 4762212 (C.A.5 (Tex.), October 08, 2012) (not selected for publication in the Federal Reporter).