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False Imprisonment

If the hospital does not want to honor the patient's decision to refuse a transfer, the hospital should request a judicial ruling on the issue. Failure to obtain such an order could subject the health care provider to liability for false imprisonment.

False imprisonment is the tort of restraining a person that person's will. The person may be physically restrained (tied up or locked up), restrained by drugs, or restrained by threats. The person does not need to try to escape. The recovery in a lawsuit based on false imprisonment includes damages for physical harm and psychological harm. False imprisonment is not based on negligence; it is an "intentional" tort, in that it is based on the "intent" to confine the person. This means that there is no community standard defense for false imprisonment. All competent adults (except for prisoners, soldiers, and so on) are legally entitled to be physically free in their movements. There is no special exception that allows hospital patients to be held against their will. They do not have the right to interfere with the care of other patients, but they cannot be held in the hospital against their will.

The problem of false imprisonment usually arises in the context of patients who want to leave the hospital before they are formally discharged. All competent adults have the right to leave the hospital at their own discretion. This right also allows parents or guardians to remove minor children from the hospital. The hospital has a duty to warn a patient of the risks entailed in leaving before it is medically indicated, but it does not have the right to restrain the patient. The hospital should inform the patient's admitting physician as soon as possible. The physician may be able to persuade the patient to stay, thus obviating the problem.


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