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Baber v. Hospital Corporation of America

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
977 F.2d 872 (1992)


Brenda Baber (plaintiff), accompanied by her brother, Barry, entered Raleigh General Hospital’s (RGH) (defendant) emergency department complaining of nausea, agitation, and believing she might be pregnant. She also had stopped taking her anti-psychosis medications and had recently been drinking. After an unsuccessful attempt to place Brenda in restraints, Dr. Richard Kline (defendant) examined her and ordered several lab tests, including a pregnancy test. He also gave her several sedative medications which failed to work. While roaming the emergency department, Brenda experienced a seizure and fell, hitting her head on a table and lacerating her scalp that required stitches to close. At that point, she was disoriented, restless, and anxious, which Kline believed to be linked to her psychiatric illness, paranoia, and alcohol withdrawal. Brenda was transferred to the psychiatric unit at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital (BARH) where she had previously received treatment from Dr. Joseph Whelan (defendant) Kline did not believe Brenda’s head injury to be serious enough to warrant further observation at RGH. Barry Baber neither consented nor objected to the transfer. After being admitted directly to BARH, Brenda suffered a grand mal seizure. She was transferred back to the RGH to receive neurological treatment. She was comatose upon transfer and died the following day. Barry filed suit against Kline and Whelan, RGH, BARH, and the parent corporations of both hospitals for alleged violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Specifically, Barry Baber contends that Kline, RGH, and the parent corporation, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) (defendant) failed to provide Brenda with an appropriate medical screening examination, failed to stabilize her emergency medical condition, and transferred her to BARH without first providing stabilizing treatment. The defendants moved to dismiss the action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The district court granted summary judgment for Kline and Whelan because it found that the EMTALA does not give patients a private cause of action against physicians. Barry Baber, as plaintiff’s state administrator, appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Williams, J.)

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