Although the law prohibits healthcare providers from discriminating against patients based on their protected status, a variety of studies have shown patients are treated differently by medical professionals because of their race, sex, disease diagnosis, and sexual orientation. When this biased treatment results in harm to patients, it can serve as the basis for medical malpractice lawsuits. Here's what you need to know to make an adequate case for damages.
When Bias Leads to Negligence
The problem with discriminatory health care is that patients who are victims of bias by medical practitioners typically receive substandard service. As a result, patients tend to experience worse outcomes, which may include permanent disability and sometimes even premature death.
For instance, one lawsuit claims EMS techs refused to work on a patient experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis once they realized the patient was transgender, resulting in the woman's death. In another lawsuit, the plaintiff claims EMTs failed to provide adequate care after learning the patient (his sister) was a lesbian. She fell into a coma after being abandoned for an hour or more when she taken to the hospital, and later died.
When a medical practitioner's bias leads that person to take an action or fail to act appropriately that leads to harm to the patient, an argument can be made the healthcare provider behaved negligently. You can then sue for damages using the medical malpractice tort, which requires you to show:
- The healthcare provider had a duty to you
- There was a breach of that duty
- You were injured by the medical practitioner's action or lack of action
- You suffered economic and non-economic losses
You don't even necessarily have to show the medical professional was being discriminatory towards you, though that could strengthen your case if you can obtain examples of the person's bias. At minimum, you would only need to show the person failed to provide the standard level of care for his or her profession and that the other elements of the medical malpractice were true.
For instance, you go to a medical clinic presenting with an intense headache and slurred speech. The doctor doesn't conduct a full examination or orders any tests because he believes you are only drug seeking based on your race. Instead he sends you home. Later, you suffer a debilitating stroke. Although the doctor's lack of action stemmed from a discriminatory belief, you only have to show he didn't perform his job as required by the standards of his profession (e.g. he didn't perform any tests) to win your case.
Suing for Discrimination
Although proving discriminatory treatment is not a factor in winning a medical malpractice case, as noted previously, it can provide another way to obtain damages in your case. So, even if you're not able to satisfactorily prove medical negligence, you may still be able to obtain compensation by showing the healthcare provider's bias harmed you in some way.
Typically, these types of lawsuits would be treated as civil right violations. As such, you would sue under the Civil Rights Act of 1964; a law that prohibits healthcare providers (among other entities and organizations) from discriminating against patients based on their race, age, sex, or other protected status. To win, you would need to show the defendant was subject to the law and that his or her action deprived you of privileges, rights, or immunities guaranteed by the law.
For instance, any hospital that accepts government funds are required to adhere to federal discrimination laws. Any healthcare provider found guilty of discriminating against patients in violation of the law can be held civilly liable for damages.
Regardless of whether you choose to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit or a civil rights violation case, it's best to consult with an attorney who can advise on how to manage the case to increase your chances of winning.