Saturday, August 01, 2009

Jury Rules in Favor of Hospital in Deportation of Brain-Damaged Guatemalan

A couple of weeks ago, I commented on the pending decision of a jury in the case of a brain-damaged Guatemalan whom a Florida hospital shipped back to his country instead of continuing to care for him. Well, last week, the jury rendered its decision:

A hospital that sent a seriously brain injured illegal immigrant back to Guatemala - over the objections of his family and legal guardian - did not act unreasonably, a jury found Monday.

Deputy Court Clerk Carol Harper said the unanimous six-member jury found in favor of the hospital and against the guardian of 37-year-old Luis Jimenez, a Mayan Indian from Guatemala.

[...] The hospital had cared for Jimenez, who was uninsured, for three years. But it was unable to find any nursing home to take him permanently because his immigration status meant the government would not reimburse his care. [...]

The lawsuit filed by Jimenez's cousin and legal guardian sought nearly $1 million to cover the estimated lifetime costs of Jimenez's care in Guatemala, as well as damages.

The hospital said it was merely following a court order - which was being appealed at the time - and that Jimenez wanted to go home.

This is a pretty disappointing decision. Obviously, the hospital was not in the easiest spot. What really disturbs me about this case, though, is that the hospital dumped Jimenez while the legal decision on what was to be done with him was still in the appeal process. And both sides on the case agreed that the laws need to better address the issue that affected Jimenez:
"There is no doubt that the state government and the federal government has to address the situation," [Jimenez's cousin and American caretaker's lawyer] said. "They can't let something like this happen again." [...]
But [hospital CEO and president Mark E. Robitaille] agreed lawmakers must step in to ensure hospitals are not put in the same position in the future.

"This is not simply an issue facing Martin Memorial. It is a critical dilemma facing health care providers across Florida and across the United States," he added.

There have been some victories for the broader issue of the rights of illegal immigrants in the years since the hospital deported Jimenez in 2003. Gaspar did win the appeal that was pending when the hospital shipped Jimenez back to Guatemala, establishing the precedent "that state judges cannot authorize what is tantamount to private deportation of undocumented immigrants, and that hospitals have to follow the federal requirements that are in place for the discharge of all people, including undocumented immigrants." Still, the fact that Jimenez was deported despite this later ruling, and that the hospital, in spite of clearly violating the court decision and legal process, will not have to pay for the care (and let's not forget, Jimenez was hit by an American drunk driver - he was not injured through his own actions or decisions) that now falls on Jimenez's family in Guatemala, is a disappointing ruling. Hopefully, the appeal works out in favor of Jimenez and his family, and they can benefit from some of the broader legal rights born out of the Jimenez case.