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Can You Sue a Hospital for Refusing Treatment?

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Can You Sue a Hospital for Refusing Treatment?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 130 million patients visit the emergency department in the U.S. every year. Almost all hospitals in the United States, public and private, are required to provide emergency care if you enter the hospital, even if you don’t have insurance. If you were denied care in a hospital or an emergency room and suffered harm as a result, you might be wondering, “Can you sue a hospital for refusing treatment?” If you find yourself in this situation, consider speaking to an experienced attorney about your options. You may be entitled to monetary compensation. 

The attorneys at Morgan & Morgan have been handling these types of cases for decades and are here to assist. With offices all across the United States, we can help no matter where you’re located. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. 

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Get answers to commonly asked questions about our legal services and learn how we may assist you with your case.

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  • Can a Hospital Legally Refuse Treatment?

    The U.S. Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) in 1986. Under this law, it is mandated that every private hospital that receives any public funding through Medicare must provide emergency treatment to every individual in need, regardless of whether the patient can pay for the treatment via insurance or out of pocket. This law prohibits hospitals from releasing sick people to another hospital due to the inability to pay. They must treat the patient until they are stable. 

    However, some healthcare facilities are not subjected to EMTALA. The following types of health care providers may not be required to offer emergency services:

    • Hospitals without emergency departments
    • Health care laboratories that are not required to provide emergency care
    • Hospitals that do not accept federal funding
    • Private doctor offices

    There are also circumstances under which a hospital has the right to deny patients emergency care, including when:

    • Patients appear to be seeking treatment primarily to obtain drugs
    • Patients have delusions of suffering from an illness despite not being ill
    • Patients behave destructively or dangerously while awaiting care
  • Under What Circumstances Can a Private Doctor or Hospital Refuse to Treat a Patient?

    EMTALA does not apply to private doctors. These providers have the right to refuse care to patients for almost any reason, including the inability to pay. These doctors are only prohibited from refusing treatment if their decision is based on unlawful discrimination. Such discrimination includes age, gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or religion. Private doctors can refuse to provide treatment to new patients in the following scenarios:

    • The person cannot pay for the cost of treatment
    • The doctor decided not to treat patients with their specific injury or illness
    • The individual has not paid for the treatment you received from them in the past
    • The doctor chooses not to provide treatment due to religious or conscientious beliefs
    • The doctor’s office decided to stop accepting the patient’s health insurance
    • The patient has exhibited repeated or persistent drug-seeking behavior
    • The patient has been destructive or disruptive
    • The doctor’s office is not accepting new patients
  • What Are the Consequences for Refusing Treatment?

    Under the EMTALA, violations can bring the following punishments:

    • Termination of the hospital or physician’s Medicare provider agreement
    • Fines of up to $50,000 for hospitals and physicians
    • The hospital may be sued in a personal injury claim

    Typically, the best way to recover compensation for being refused treatment is to file a medical malpractice/personal injury lawsuit. Even if your claim doesn’t fall right in line with EMTALA, you can still attempt to prove that the hospital and/or doctor was negligent, which further caused you harm. 

  • How do you Sue a Hospital - Proving a Medical Malpractice Claim?

    If you believe you have a potential medical malpractice claim because your doctor or hospital refused to treat you, you should contact a medical malpractice lawyer right away to discuss your options. You may have a variable lawsuit. 

    Health care providers are trained not to harm when treating their patients. Unfortunately, countless errors occur at the hands of doctors each day. These errors can have severe consequences in many cases and may lead to lawsuits. 

    When pursuing a claim based on medical error, including the refusal of treatment, the injured patient must show that the physician acted negligently in rendering care, and such negligence leads to injury. To do so, the four elements of medical malpractice must be established.

    1. Duty of care
    2. Breach of the duty
    3. Injury caused by the breach
    4. Damages

    Duty of Care

    Fundamentally, every case of malpractice must identify the professional duty of care owed to the patient. A malpractice claim will only be successful if the patient can establish their caretaker owed them that duty. It must be established that a doctor-patient relationship existed between the plaintiff and the defendant.

    Breach of Duty

    However, not every bad outcome during a medical procedure is due to medical negligence. In some cases, the doctor’s best efforts could still lead to a patient’s injury or death. To have a successful case, the second element of medical malpractice must be proven; it requires enough evidence to show that the professional duty was breached. 

    To prove that there was a breach of a doctor’s professional duty of care, you must establish that the doctor failed to exhibit the standard of care exercised by a similar doctor in that situation. Examples of breach of duty often include:

    • Surgical error
    • Wrong diagnosis
    • Delayed diagnosis
    • Failing to recognize signs and symptoms of a clinical condition.
    • Prescribing the incorrect type or dosage of medicine.
    • Delayed treatment 


    Injury is the third element needed in a medical malpractice case to make it viable in court. Your attorney must present evidence to show that you suffered damages because of the doctor’s negligence. Damages are monetary losses for the harm caused by a doctor’s negligence.  


    Finally, to succeed on a medical malpractice claim, you must show that the injury and damages you sustained were a result of the breach of duty. The fact that a hospital or doctor was negligent won’t alone provide you with a successful claim; there must be causation. 

    Common examples of losses/damages include the following: 

    • Lost pay
    • Cost of corrective surgery
    • Prescription medicine
    • Loss of consortium
    • Pain and suffering
    • Diminished quality of life
  • What Is Delayed Treatment?

    A delay in treatment is characterized by an individual failing to receive treatment, which can include medication, physical therapy treatment, lab testing, diagnostic tests, or any other form of treatment when it should have been delivered. It also includes failing to receive follow-up appointments within the reasonable time frame they should have been delivered.

    Under this circumstance, if the conduct contributed to a patient’s injuries, the doctor and the hospital may be liable. The hospital or doctor’s office is responsible for its employees and their training and can be sued for failing to provide appropriate care.

    However, many hospitals employ doctors as independent contractors. If this is the case, and the doctor’s negligence is the sole cause of your injuries, then you will likely be able to sue the doctor but not the hospital. 

  • Can Delayed Treatment Contribute to Medical Malpractice?

    A viable malpractice case can result when a doctor fails to provide timely care to a patient. Medical malpractice occurs when the negligence of a healthcare professional causes injury to a patient. However, the success of this lawsuit depends on the answer provided to the questions below:

    • Did the Treatment Delay Amount to Medical Negligence?

    To have a successful lawsuit, the patient must establish that the doctor’s delay in providing care amounted to medical negligence under the circumstances. Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare provider fails to meet the certain minimum standards of care when providing medical treatment to a patient. Medical malpractice lawsuits hinge on whether the health care professional’s actions met the medical standard of care. 

    • Did the Treatment Delay Cause Harm?

    If the doctor’s negligence is successfully proven, the other main component of your case would be the establishment of quantifiable harm resulting from the health care professional’s negligence. Showing that the doctor failed to treat a disease or injury in time is not enough to sue a doctor for malpractice. You must provide evidence of harm.

    In order to do this, expert witness testimony can be utilized. An expert medical witness can provide testimony that the delay in treatment caused additional injuries, such as:

    • Worsening of condition
    • Decreased effectiveness of the treatment
    • Worsening of symptoms associated with the condition
    • Intensified pain and discomfort
  • What Medical Mistakes Can Lead to a Lawsuit?

    You can decide to file a lawsuit against a hospital for injuries you suffered as a result of problems such as:

    • Wrong diagnosis or treatment from medical experts
    • Prescribing of wrong medication
    • Mistakes made by hospital technicians 
    • Surgical errors 
    • Dangerous or negligent actions by hospital staff 
    • Wrongful death of a family member
    • Delay in treatment
    • Refusal of treatment
  • How Do You Prove the Elements of Medical Malpractice?

    Generally, negligent doctors will not come forward and admit liability, even if it’s clear that a mistake was made. Pursuing a medical malpractice claim is a difficult process without the help of an experienced attorney.

    For this reason, victims often hire teams of lawyers and investigators to uncover the evidence.
    An investigation of the four elements of medical malpractice within a case may include:

    • Gathering medical records, test results, and other evidence of treatment
    • Obtaining expert testimony from health professionals
    • Reviewing previous malpractice claims or complaints against the doctor or hospital in question
    • Creating a timeline of events and involved parties
  • What Is the Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice?

    Under state law, there is a deadline for when a patient may file a civil claim, known as statutes of limitation. A patient may pursue a civil claim against physicians or other healthcare providers if the healthcare provider causes injury or death to the patient through a negligent act. However, the statute of limitations varies by state. Generally, patients have one to three years to file a medical liability and malpractice claim. Make sure you speak with a local medical malpractice lawyer to ensure that your claim is filed on time. If you fail to file on time, you will lose your right to recover any monetary compensation, even if you otherwise would have had a very strong claim.

  • Contact Morgan & Morgan for Help

    Most of us reasonably expect to go to a hospital or doctor and receive the care we need. When that doesn’t happen, the results can be devastating, emotionally and physically. If you were refused treatment or suffered harm due to a medical professional’s negligence, you should consider contacting a lawyer right away. The attorneys at Morgan & Morgan have decades of experience handling medical malpractice cases. We will do everything we can to ensure that you get the help and compensation you deserve. Contact Morgan & Morgan today to set up a free case evaluation. 

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