Tennessee Dismisses EMTALA Complaint in Suicide Case

Burd ex rel. Burd v. Lebannon HMA, Inc., 2010 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 124696 (M.D. Tenn. Nov. 23, 2010)

A United States District Court in Tennessee dismissed this lawsuit brought by the executor of Joshua Ashley Burd against Lebanon HMA, Inc. under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), 42 U.S.C § 1395dd. Burd was initially brought to the emergency room after attempting suicide by hanging himself. Finding him to have high “suicide lethality” and testing positive for cocaine and opiates, Burd was committed to Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute, a state mental health facility. A psychiatrist at the facility found him not to be a suicide risk and did not admit him. A police officer checking on his condition at home later that evening found an outstanding arrest warrant and learned that Burd had consumed two bottles of vodka. Believing he was a suicide risk, the officer returned Burd to the emergency room. Emergency room staff assessed him and determined he was suffering from acute situational anxiety, not an emergency medical condition, and discharged him. Burd was found dead the next morning from hanging. The trial court dismissed the EMTALA claim finding that the plaintiff had presented no proof of improper motive on behalf of emergency room staff. It found that there was no evidence that the decedent would have been assessed differently had he had health insurance. The court also found that if hospital staff does not have actual knowledge that an emergency medical condition exists, EMTALA does not apply. Any allegations related to medical malpractice must be decided in state court under state malpractice law.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 2