Burditt v. US Dept of Health and Human Services
Burditt v. US Dept of Health and Human Services was an action by Dr. Michael Burditt, an obstetrician against the US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). The action was in response to the US DHHS’s allegations that he inappropriately transferred an indigent near term pregnant woman from his Texas hospital to another facility 170 miles away.
The facts of the case indicate that Burditt was between a rock and a hard place. The mother was about to deliver her sixth child with ruptured membranes and contractions 1-3 minutes apart, factors which would make a 2-3 hour car ride difficult at best. On the other hand, her blood pressure was through the roof (210/130 mm Hg), which carries a high risk of morbidity and mortality for the mother and the child, Burditt’s hospital didn’t have adequate perinatal support and he didn’t want the malpractice liability. Most doctors would not have tried to transfer the patient–who delivered in the ambulance, 40 miles into the journey–but then most doctors don’t have to pay an obstetrician’s malpractice premiums. Burditt was sanctioned and fined $20,000 under EMTALA, the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Law, which provides for fines of up to $50,000 for physicians and hospitals that transfer unstable patients.
Reference title (synonym) 934 F.2d 1362 (1991)
References AMN 23/30/9/91, p1
The Victoria Advocate 18 June 1989
NY Times March 23, 1991