False ImprisonmentOn September 26, 2021 by Millerie Penbrock
False imprisonment is defined as the unlawful restraint of a person that affects that person’s freedom of movement. False imprisonment can occur when a person is physically restrained, chemically restrained, or psychologically restrained. Moreover, the person restrained does not have to attempt to escape the restraint in order to state a claim for false imprisonment.
In the medical context, false imprisonment can occur when a patient is prevented from leaving a hospital. While competent adults are free to leave a hospital at any time, there are some instances in which a hospital may wish to restrain a patient who desires to leave. For example, health care professionals may want to restrain a patient in the hospital if the patient presents a risk of harm to him or herself or to others. Also, health care professionals may want to restrain a patient if it is unclear whether the patient is competent to make the decision to leave the hospital against medical advice. Finally, hospitals may wish to transfer a patient who lacks the ability to pay for services to a public facility for care.
Emergency Confinement Laws
All states have laws that allow states to confine a person in a medical facility against his or her will. While each state’s law varies, in general, the laws require a finding that the person is a danger to himself or others as a prerequisite to retaining the person. A patient who was properly considered a danger would not be able to bring a successful false imprisonment claim. In addition to emergency confinement, hospitals are obliged to restrain prisoners who are receiving medical care against their will. The hospital and health care providers are usually protected from liability by a judicial restraining order.
While health care professionals are required to allow competent adults to leave the hospital, even though leaving would likely cause adverse medical consequences, it is not always clear whether a patient is competent to make such a decision. Often, medications and the effects of medical conditions cause confusion in patients that compromises their judgment. Health care professionals must weigh the risk of liability from allowing patients to leave against medical advice against the risk of liability for false imprisonment as a result of restraining patients against their will.
Transfer Rights under EMTALA
The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act prohibits hospitals from transferring patients who present to their emergency departments to another hospital unless the patients have been medically screened and deemed stable for transfer. Patients have the right to refuse the transfer and must be informed of the reason for the transfer and the available alternatives. Sometimes, hospitals that have transferred emergency patients against their will have been held liable for false imprisonment.
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