Last Rites for ER Doctor’s EMTALA Claims

ER physician Ryan Kime believed his hospital lacked the resources, procedures, and capacity to meet the requirements of EMTALA, and he repeatedly said so. At an ER meeting he reported two cases as possible EMTALA violations but supplied no details.

Because of the ER’s unacceptable wait time, some patients give up and leave without being seen. During a power outage, Kime urged the hospital to go on diversion status, but it refused. Soon afterwards, the hospital summarily suspended him and reported him to the National Practitioner Data Bank.

All that is what Kime alleged when he sued the hospital for emotional distress resulting from “substandard and extremely stressful conditions” and for damage to his reputation. Count one was based on the EMTALA provision granting a private right of action to a person harmed by an EMTALA violation. The court dismissed that count because the provision gives standing to patients only.

Count two was based on EMTALA’s whistleblower protection provision. The court dismissed that count, too, because Kime’s scattershot allegations of EMTALA violations didn’t specify any actual violations—only conditions that in his opinion could lead to violations.

What’s more, EMTALA specifically says that a hospital is required to provide medical screening examinations only “within the capability of the hospital’s emergency department.” So a hospital can’t violate the requirement by having inadequate ER capability. Inadequacy is not a violation; it’s a defense.


The court dismissed Kime’s complaint but gave him the comfort of denying the hospital’s motion for sanctions. The case is Kime v. Adventist Health Clearlake Hospital, No. 16-cv-04502-YGR (N.D. Calif., May 22, 2017).

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