Emergency room negligence or emergency room malpractice is when ER doctors or other medical professionals in an emergency department make a medical mistake that harms a patient. Although hospital emergency departments make every effort to provide quality medical treatment, emergency room mistakes happen more frequently than many people realize. Emergency room errors can have devastating consequences for the patient. Fortunately, laws allow a patient who has been the victim of medical malpractice to recover damages with a medical malpractice lawsuit.
However, emergency room errors are not synonymous with medical malpractice. Medical malpractice cases are complex. Understanding the common types of medical errors and what makes them eligible medical malpractice cases can help you decide whether to pursue a lawsuit. Consider some of the most common emergency room errors and how a medical malpractice lawyer can help.
Emergency Rooms and Medical Malpractice Explained
The emergency room setting is rife with opportunities for errors. An emergency patient needs immediate attention from an ER doctor, which can lead to shortcuts or lapses in procedure. Even though emergency physicians strive to do no harm, medical emergencies do not always give medical staff easy situations to work in. As a result, errors in the emergency room are more likely than in any other part of a hospital.
In many cases, these errors can qualify as emergency room negligence, a form of medical malpractice. Experienced lawyers can help a patient seek compensation in the event of emergency room malpractice. How do you know if you were the victim of an error? Consider some of the most common mistakes that happen due to a doctor’s negligence or ER malpractice.
What Medical Mistakes Do Emergency Room Doctors Make?
Many of the errors that happen in emergency rooms go unnoticed. Small mistakes happen and can be fixed at the moment. A patient may never realize that an error occurred. However, some mistakes may result in severe injury or the patient’s condition worsening because of the error. Emergency medical treatment is supposed to help, not harm. Nevertheless, these mistakes occur quite frequently.
Failure to Diagnose and Incorrect Diagnosis
One of the biggest problems is a failure to diagnose a patient’s condition correctly. Diagnostic errors are responsible for many of these cases. For instance, a patient may come in complaining about chest pain. Naturally, an emergency room doctor should test for a heart attack. However, symptoms may not seem severe enough, so doctors don’t order a proper medical screening. Perhaps the patient’s medical records can’t be found.
These situations lead to misdiagnosis. In the absence of the correct diagnosis, doctors may prescribe the wrong treatment, leading to further problems for the patient. When ER doctors cannot determine the exact problem, medical errors are more likely to occur. In some cases, this may not be an example of negligence. Emergency rooms make split-second decisions, and some conditions can be difficult to diagnose quickly. However, some 45% of doctors admit to having made serious mistakes because of negligence.
Failure to Administer the Proper Treatment
While a misdiagnosis will likely lead to a patient receiving the wrong treatment, sometimes emergency room physicians fail to administer the correct treatment despite having a clear diagnosis. One reason is because of “anchoring bias.” This term refers to a phenomenon where, despite all evidence to the contrary, a doctor sticks with the first information they received. This results in the doctor trying to disprove the initial theory instead of listening to the data.
For instance, ambulance crews may bring a patient into the emergency room with a suspected condition, such as a heart attack. However, a CT scan might reveal another problem. Anchoring bias could cause the ER doctor to ignore the results of the CT scan and proceed with what they consider the right treatment for the initial diagnosis. In more severe cases, patients may not get the right treatment because of clerical errors made by other healthcare professionals.
Medication errors produce the most problems for patients compared to other kinds of errors. Although adverse drug reactions do not necessarily imply medical malpractice, many times, the wrong medication is given to a patient because of negligence. For instance, a patient may be allergic to a certain medication, but medical staff administers it anyway because they didn’t check the patient’s medical records. Emergency medical technicians are especially likely to commit these mistakes.
Similarly, a patient’s medical history may contraindicate certain medications, but if this information is not readily available, emergency room medical staff may proceed anyway. A medication error can prolong a patient’s hospital stay or even cause more serious injury. On the other hand, failure to administer the correct medication is another form of medication error that can lead to infections or other complications.
A Grossly Negligent Emergency Room Error
Although rare, sometimes, the hospital emergency room makes a glaring mistake. There have been cases where medical professionals in the emergency department operated on the wrong patient, performed the wrong surgery, or left a patient waiting too long. In some cases, a patient complains of intense pain after surgery only to find surgical instruments in their body! These situations are nearly always examples of emergency room malpractice.
If such a situation has happened to you or someone close to you, reach out to a law firm that specializes in medical malpractice cases. Ask for a free consultation so that you can explain the situation calmly to a lawyer.
Failure to Get Informed Consent
Federal law requires all medical professionals, including those in emergency care, to give patients an explanation of the risks involved in any procedure. The patient must agree to receive the emergency medical care that the ER physician or other healthcare professionals have recommended. This is called informed consent. Failure to give a proper explanation and get this consent is considered an act of negligence in most cases.
Of course, in an emergency room, this may not always be possible. Sometimes patients are unconscious and unable to consent. An emergency room physician may try to contact a family member if a patient is unable to respond. However, if a patient can understand and respond to a medical professional, then they should be given the opportunity to understand the procedure and consent to it.
Patient dumping is a particularly egregious example of medical malpractice. It happens when a patient is “dumped” even though their medical condition has not been stabilized. A patient may be dismissed prematurely or told to transfer to another facility. Sometimes this happens because a patient does not have a healthcare provider. However, everyone has the right to emergency medical care, even if they don’t have insurance.
Although patient dumping typically refers to cases where an emergency room intentionally dismisses a patient despite knowing that their medical condition is not stable, it can also happen by accident. Diagnostic errors may cause doctors to believe that the patient is fine despite their pleas of intense pain or concerns about their medical history.
When Is an Emergency Room Error a Case of Medical Malpractice?
To determine whether an emergency room error qualifies as malpractice, we have to turn to Missouri state law. The civil code outlines the rules for medical malpractice claims. In general, two key requirements must be met. First, a patient has to show that an emergency room physician or other medical professional in the emergency room acted negligently. Second, the patient must have experienced harm as a result of the error.
If you are not sure whether your case qualifies, speak to an attorney at a medical malpractice law firm. By sharing your case with an experienced attorney, it will be easier to determine whether your case merits further action. Consider the two key criteria and whether they might apply to your situation.
Medical Malpractice Requires Medical Negligence
Negligence in medicine is a form of malpractice. So, what is medical negligence in the context of the emergency room? Negligence occurs whenever emergency room staff fail to follow proper procedures when administering treatment to a patient. Procedure is important in medicine. Something as simple as sterilizing a catheter too quickly could lead to a urinary tract infection. Failing to provide follow-up instructions after surgery could lead to aggravated injuries or painful falls.
To prove negligence in a lawsuit, you will need the word of another doctor. Another expert in medical care can note the flaws in how the emergency room handled your situation. A lawyer can help you get this testimony. Provide your medical history as well, since this can support your claim of negligence if obvious facts in your medical history were ignored.
Harm or Significant Injury Must Be Demonstrated
This rule is not specific to medical malpractice lawsuits: no civil action can be taken unless there are measurable damages. Damages are primarily financial in nature. How does this relate to harm in the case of an emergency room error? Mistakes in the emergency room can lead to prolonged hospital stays, additional medication costs, or even expenses for new problems that arise from the error. These additional expenses are damages that you can directly attribute to a doctor’s mistake.
If you can show that your damages were the result of negligence, then you could bring a lawsuit forward to seek compensation and recoup the damages you lost. You can extend these by including lost wages or other expenses, like hospital parking or having family members stay to support you. In addition, you may be able to recover “non-economic” damages, also known as pain and suffering. So, if you believe your situation justifies a lawsuit, what are the next steps?
How to File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Even if your emergency room error case meets the aforementioned criteria, it must also fall within the statute of limitations. Missouri law prevents patients from filing lawsuits more than two years after the date of their medical error. However, if you didn’t find out about the error right away, you may be given an extension. In such cases, you have two years from the date of discovery to file a lawsuit.
You will want the help of an experienced attorney. Healthcare providers will often ignore individuals’ attempts to sue on their own. However, when you have a lawyer, you are more likely to get a quick settlement.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Law Firm
To start the process of suing a doctor or other healthcare provider, you should request a free consultation from a law firm that specializes in personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits. Share your experience with a lawyer, along with any documentation you may have. Your lawyer may instruct you to get more documents, or they can subpoena medical facilities to get them. Once they have enough information, they can help you decide whether to file a lawsuit.
Don’t wait to seek compensation for your injuries. If you’ve been injured due to an emergency room error, contact Wendt Law Firm P.C. at 816-542-6734 to schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers.