A while back I noted the awful Langbehn-Pond case, where a dying woman’s partner was kept from her bedside by a Florida hospital; attempts to sue the hospital for discrimination eventually failed. The story is dreadful and the hospital’s conduct simply indefensible morally – as the judge pointed out in his summing-up:
the defendants’ lack of sensitivity and attention to Ms.Langbehn, Ms. Pond, and their children caused them needless distress during a time of vulnerability. The defendants’ failure to provide Ms. Langbehn and her children frequent updates on Ms. Pond’s status, to allow Ms. Langbehn and her children to visit Ms. Pond after emergency medical care ceased; to inform Ms. Langbehn that Ms. Pond had been transferred to the intensive care unit, and to provide Ms. Langbehn Ms. Pond’s medical records as she requested, exhibited a lack of compassion and was unbecoming of a renowned trauma center like Ryder. Unfortunately, no relief is available for these failures
The actual legal documents are rather chilling – the hospital successfully argued that their duty of care was entirely to the dying woman and not at all to her family, and cited precedents including the following:
In the Middle District of Florida a plaintiff brought a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the United State Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), to which the court applied Florida law. Gonzalez-Jimenez De Ruiz v. United States, 231 F. Supp.2d 1187 (M.D. Fla. 2002). Plaintiff’s father was being held in a Florida prison, and because of concerns for his father’s health, plaintiff traveled from Puerto Rico to Florida to visit his father. From April until June the prison officials refused to allow plaintiff to visit his father, told plaintiff that his father didn’t wish to see him, and told plaintiff that his father was “fine.” Since at least May, the father was actually in a nearby hospital being treated for terminal cancer. Plaintiff learned of this from a non-prison official and visited the hospital, where he also learned that his father’s spine and neck had been broken by prison personnel who “had crudely attempted to manipulate [his] spine.” The very next day, plaintiff’s father was transferred to a prison in Texas where he died nine days later, all without notification to his family. Thus, for over a month the plaintiff was denied contact with his dying father, was lied to and denied the most basic information about his father’s terminal condition and the condition caused by the BOP personnel, and was not given information about his father’s transfer to Texas and ultimate death. The court held that because the father was in a federal correctional facility the allegations were not “beyond the bounds of decency” or “utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” and dismissed the Complaint.
I would beg to disagree with the court on its definition of “decency” or a “civilised community”; and I hope that Jackson Memorial Hospital is suitably proud to be able to point to this precedent as justification for their behaviour.
Be that as it may, two days ago Janice Langbehn got a slightly unexpected phone call. It was from President Obama, apologising for the way the family had been treated, and informing her that he has directed that all hospitals in receipt of Medicaid or Medicare funds allow equal visitation rights. The family still has had no apology from the hospital, but I think that counts as a victory all the same.