The Court of Appeals recently published Ohio County Hospital Corporation v. Martin, a case resulting from alleged malpractice in the treatment of Billie Shreve. “Shreve died after being treated at the hospital following an automobile accident, and this case arose as a result of a claim of medical negligence brought by the administratrix of her estate and by her surviving husband against the hospital and her treating physician”, Dr. Gregory.

The jury returned a verdict against Dr. Gregory and the hospital, determining that each was liable for 50% of the damages. The jury awarded $48,000 for destruction of Shreve’s power to earn money, $50,000 for her pain and suffering, and $725 for funeral expenses, for a total of $98,725. The jury awarded Donald Shreve $250,000 for loss of consortium. A judgment of $49,362.50 was entered for the Estate and $125,000 for Donald Shreve based on the apportionment of liability.

On appeal the hospital sought to overturn the loss of consortium claim, claiming it improperly allowed damages for loss of consortium when no appreciable time passed between the injuries and Ms. Shreve death, the actual measure of such damages. The Court of Appeals noted:

The facts here are that Shreve lived for only a short period of time between the alleged negligent act and her death. The fact that Mr. Shreve may now be in a difficult situation due to his wife’s death is not relevant to the loss of consortium claim because that claim relates only to damages incurred between the negligent act and death. We conclude that no appreciable time had elapsed between the alleged negligent act and Shreve’s death and that Mr. Shreve could not have suffered damages for loss of consortium during that time. Therefore, the court erred in not granting a directed verdict in favor of the hospital and dismissing the loss of consortium claim.

The hospital also appealed the medical malpractice verdict, citing several procedural and evidentiary errors at trial. The Court of Appeals found any errors to be harmless and the verdict to be supported by the evidence. It affirmed the verdict for Ms. Shreve’s Estate.

The first ten pages of the opinion are dedicated to discussing the EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act) a federal statute enacted by Congress to prevent hospitals “from dumping patients, who lack insurance to pay for their claims, by either refusing treatment or transferring them to other hospital.” The hospital also cited case law noting that this statute was not a federal malpractice statute. Despite the statute’s clear language and the supporting federal authority, the Court of Appeals discussed the EMTALA at length. It found that the “medical screening” requirement requires evidence of bad faith, which was not present. The medical stabilization requirement requires no such finding, but the Court found that the hospital complied by executing the requisite forms prior to Shreve’s transport. It held that a directed verdict was appropriate on this claim.

Unfortunately, because the EMTALA issue was allowed to go to the jury and the verdict did not separate common elements of damages sought under both claims the entire verdict was vacated, and the case was remanded for a new trial on the issue of the estate’s medical negligence claim.