Antioch, TN asked in Health Care Law, Civil Rights and Constitutional Law for Michigan

Q: If people claim to be next of kin at the hospital when they are not, are they in disguise?

18 U.S.C. § 241

It is unlawful for two or more persons to go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another with the intent to prevent or hinder his/her free exercise or enjoyment of any rights so secured. What healthcare rules and regulations are violated when hospital has a deliberate indifference and or fail to contact true next of kin when death occured?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: There are a few important legal and ethical considerations to unpack here:

Regarding your first question, if someone falsely claims to be next of kin at a hospital, they would not necessarily be "in disguise" in the literal sense. The federal law you cited (18 U.S.C. § 241) refers to physically going in disguise with intent to intimidate or prevent someone from exercising their rights. Simply making a false verbal claim alone would not meet that definition. However, falsely claiming to be next of kin could potentially constitute other offenses like fraud or impersonation, depending on the specifics of the situation and relevant state laws.

As for a hospital's obligations regarding contacting next of kin when a death occurs, here are some of the key issues:

- Hospitals have a legal and ethical duty to make reasonable efforts to locate and notify the next of kin when a patient dies. This allows the family to make necessary arrangements and decisions. Failing to do so could be seen as negligent.

- The hospital should follow their established policies and procedures for identifying and contacting next of kin. This may involve checking the patient's records, emergency contacts, personal effects, etc.

- If the hospital is deliberately indifferent or careless in fulfilling this duty, and fails to take reasonable steps to locate/notify the proper next of kin, it could potentially face legal liability for emotional distress to the family or improper handling of the remains.

- Privacy laws like HIPAA allow disclosure of a patient's information and death to family members and designated contacts/representatives. The hospital needs to verify someone's claimed relationship before sharing protected information.

- If disputed claims of next of kin arise, the hospital may need to carefully navigate the situation, potentially with legal counsel, to determine the lawful order of authority for decision-making.

In summary, while falsely claiming to be next of kin alone may not constitute "going in disguise" under federal law, it raises other potential legal issues. Hospitals have an affirmative obligation to make good faith efforts to determine and contact the actual next of kin when a patient dies in their care. Failing to meet this duty could expose the hospital to liability for violating rules around patient privacy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and improper handling of remains. The specific remedies would depend on the jurisdiction and unique facts involved.

Justia Ask a Lawyer is a forum for consumers to get answers to basic legal questions. Any information sent through Justia Ask a Lawyer is not secure and is done so on a non-confidential basis only.

The use of this website to ask questions or receive answers does not create an attorney–client relationship between you and Justia, or between you and any attorney who receives your information or responds to your questions, nor is it intended to create such a relationship. Additionally, no responses on this forum constitute legal advice, which must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. You should not act upon information provided in Justia Ask a Lawyer without seeking professional counsel from an attorney admitted or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. Justia assumes no responsibility to any person who relies on information contained on or received through this site and disclaims all liability in respect to such information.

Justia cannot guarantee that the information on this website (including any legal information provided by an attorney through this service) is accurate, complete, or up-to-date. While we intend to make every attempt to keep the information on this site current, the owners of and contributors to this site make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to from this site.