Proving Medical Malpractice in An Emergency Situation

Emergency medical care is a familiar topic to most Americans. Chances are, virtually all of us have received emergency medical care, or if not, have a close family member who has. And Oregonians are blessed to live in communities with professional, capable doctors, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and others providing crucial emergency care. The quality of this care in the early stages of an emergency can be absolutely life-saving. Unfortunately, however, malpractice committed during this crucial stage of care can be equally devastating, sometimes resulting in permanent injury or death. When such malpractice is committed, society demands accountability. In this article, we’ll discuss the rules and standards which apply to malpractice in an emergency situation.

Emergency Department Statistics

Recent data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 130.4 million Americans made emergency department visits in 2013. According to the CDC, approximately twenty percent (20%) of adults visit the emergency room each year. More than 37 million of these visits are injury related, and 12.2 million result in hospital admissions. Of these admissions, 1.5 million admissions are into critical care units.

Proving Medical Malpractice

To prove medical malpractice, an injured person (called the “plaintiff” in a lawsuit) must prove that the medical care provider breached the applicable standard of care, which resulted in injury to the plaintiff.

Are the Rules Different for Emergency Room Personnel?

Recognizing that emergency situations are often hectic, thereby providing care-givers with less time to gather information and make decisions, many people wonder if the legal rules are different for emergency room personnel. The elements the plaintiff must prove are the same; however, the standard of care may be different. Thus, the law recognizes that a doctor or nurse facing an emergency situation may not have all the time and tools available that a doctor or nurse might possess in a non-emergency situation. This is a fair rule which recognizes the circumstances, but holds professionals accountable when they fail to meet the applicable standard of care.

How is the Standard of Care Established?

Expert witnesses establish the standard of care. For example, another emergency room doctor would provide testimony on what a reasonable emergency room doctor should have done under the same or similar circumstances as those involving the plaintiff. Often times, expert witnesses have different opinions and a jury must make a final decision.

Examples of Emergency Room Malpractice.

Even in emergency situations, emergency room personnel are highly trained to make appropriate decisions. Nevertheless, malpractice occurs. A few examples of negligence might include the following:

  • Failure to diagnose;
  • Inappropriate Discharge;
  • Failure to recognize the need for a specialist; or
  • Mistakes with medication.

What about EMTs and Paramedics?

As first responders, EMTs and paramedics often play a crucial role in treating injuries and other medical issues. We have seen many circumstances where these professionals took heroic and life-saving actions. However, paramedics and EMTs can also cause great harm if they are careless and fail to meet the applicable standard of care. For example, failure to respond promptly or use of the wrong drug or medication can cause great harm. Just as with emergency room personnel, expert witnesses establish the appropriate standard of care for EMTs and paramedics.

Call for a Free Consultation

Determining whether an emergency health care provider has breached the applicable standard of care can be difficult. The medical and legal analyses can both be complicated. Expert witnesses must be consulted and a careful and thorough investigation is required. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we are experienced medical malpractice lawyers, and can help you determine if medical malpractice occurred. If so, we can help sure the wrongdoers are held accountable for their actions. Contact us for a free consultation.

Helpful Links:

CDC National Center for Health Statistics – Emergency Department Visits: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/emergency-department.htm

CDC National Health Statistics Reports, February 18, 2016 - https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr090.pdf


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