Medical malpractice can occur in any part of a hospital, at any point during the patient care process. However, malpractice during emergency medical care deals with a special set of rules. Standards of care are different in emergency rooms (ERs), as are the legal duties of first responders. Texas state laws protect first responders from most lawsuits. Emergency rooms by their very nature are more prone to accidents than ordinary doctor’s offices and operating rooms. However, ER staff may still be guilty of medical malpractice in certain circumstances.
Accepted Standards of Care
The law holds ER doctors, nurses, and other personnel to the same medical standards of care as those working outside of the emergency room. Any deviation from these standards, causing preventable patient harm, may constitute medical malpractice. Like other malpractice cases, emergency room malpractice cases center on the legal theory of negligence. A plaintiff must prove that an ER staff member breached his or her duties of care. A breach typically means that a competent professional would not have made the same mistake in the same circumstances. A breach of care in the ER may be malpractice.
Since the emergency room is not a calm, quiet environment in which to perform duties, mistakes must be severe for the courts to deem it negligence. The ER is a naturally chaotic environment in which many reasonably competent practitioners may make the same mistakes. Mistakes made due to incompetence, an understaffed ER, unsanitary conditions, or carelessness, however, may be medical malpractice. These types of ER errors are inexcusable and can mean the difference between life and death to a patient in need.
Types of Emergency Room Negligence
Misdiagnosis is the most common ER error due to the need to move patients in and out of the ER as quickly as possible. Doctors may not get the full picture, dismiss patient complaints, or fail to take the necessary amount of time to make a proper diagnosis. Misdiagnosis can seriously harm a patient when he or she does not receive the right treatment for the actual condition, or receives treatment for a condition he or she does not have, such as special medication or even unnecessary surgery. Misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and failure to diagnose are forms of medical malpractice in the emergency room if another doctor could have made a timely, correct diagnosis in the same circumstances. Other common types of ER errors that can result in lawsuits include:
- Paramedic, first responder, and EMT neglect
- Anesthesia errors
- Surgical errors
- Contaminated blood transfusion
- Medication errors
- Failure to order correct tests
- Misinterpreting test results
- Refusing patient care unfairly
- Failure to see a patient as quickly as their condition necessitates
- Improper discharge of a patient
Each of these mistakes can cause significant patient harm and death. If a doctor dismisses or downplays a patient’s complaints in the ER, leading to failure to order the proper tests, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose, and improper discharge of a patient, the patient will not receive the care he or she needs to improve. Instead, the patient will go home and his or her health condition could worsen. If this sounds like your own situation, you may have grounds for an ER malpractice case.
Get Help with ER Malpractice
Medical malpractice cases are always complex and deserve the careful attention of a team of malpractice attorneys. However, ER malpractice cases are even more complicated than ordinary medical malpractice lawsuits. The ER has a special set of rules and expectations for its personnel and patient care. For help with your ER malpractice case, speak to an attorney as soon as possible.