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American Academy of Emergency Medicine

AAEM Writes Amicus Brief in $4.9 Million "Patient Dumping" Case

by Larry D. Weiss, MD JD FAAEM

AAEM came to the defense of a beleaguered emergency physician held personally liable for $4.4 million for the new intentional tort of "patient dumping" by a Louisiana appellate court. 1 In addition to being held liable for negligence in the amount of $500,000, the court determined that the physician intentionally "dumped" the patient by transferring him to a public hospital, even though the court admitted that the physician did not violate EMTALA. In this case, the emergency physician transferred a patient with arm cellulitis secondary to intravenous drug use to a public hospital located ten minutes away. He transferred the patient in a stable condition, and the patient's condition did not deteriorate en route.

The brief, filed on behalf of Van Meter & Associates, a large provider of emergency medical services in the New Orleans area, AAEM, and AAEMLa, argued that the physician could not possibly have "dumped" the patient if he did not violate EMTALA or the analogous state law. The brief also argued about the dangerous precedent this case would create. Malpractice insurance policies ordinarily do not cover intentional torts. The defendant physician in this case will face personal ruin unless the Louisiana Supreme Court reverses the decision. Unless reversed, this decision will not only drive emergency physicians out of Louisiana, but will compel physicians not to transfer patients to a higher level of care. Of course, the danger also exists that plaintiff attorneys in other states will argue that this reasoning should apply in their cases. The Louisiana Supreme Court should decide within the next several weeks whether it will hear the case on appeal.

Robert McNamara, M.D., President of AAEM, was involved in every aspect of the preparation and submission of the brief. Among emergency medicine organizations, only AAEM and AAEMLa wrote and submitted their own brief. This case serves as a typical example of how AAEM can quickly put its Mission into action, coming to the support of an emergency physician victimized by unfortunate circumstances. Very few medical societies have a president willing to immediately commit his time and expend considerable efforts on behalf of a physician in need. This case serves as yet another example of the value of AAEM membership, and how the AAEM Mission directly benefits the interests of individual emergency physicians and patient care.

1Coleman v. Deno, No. 99-CA-2998 (La. App. 4th Cir., April 25, 2001)