A judge dismissed one of 48 class-action lawsuits on file against hospitals nationwide on behalf of uninsured patients, ruling that the charges had previously been tried in state court and that a foundation of the suit -- the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act -- did not apply. It was the first dismissal not requested by plaintiffs in the series of suits filed by a coalition of law firms led by attorney Richard Scruggs of Oxford, Miss. The suit against nine-hospital Baptist Health System, Birmingham, Ala., and the American Hospital Association was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins in Birmingham.
Plaintiffs had already lost in state court before the class-action suit was filed, and the federal court cannot rule again on the charges under the legal concept res judicata, the judge said. She rejected the contention that EMTALA still applied to the case because of continued collection efforts and other ongoing activities, ruling that the two-year time limit on EMTALA charges had passed. She also said the case did not qualify as a personal injury suit under EMTALA because the plaintiffs had not suffered physical harm as a result of Baptist's actions, a requirement in Alabama. -- by Paul Barr