Medical Malpractice During Emergencies
Medical mistakes are unfortunately common during emergencies. If you are or a loved one were harmed because a medical professional made a mistake during or shortly after an emergency, you may be able to sue the professional and/or the hospital for malpractice.
When Is a Medical Mistake Made in an Emergency Room Considered Malpractice?
Medical professionals have a legal duty to meet an applicable standard of care. This means they must perform their work with the same level of competence that similar medical professionals would use in similar situations. Every medical mistake is not malpractice. Only mistakes made because a doctor or other professional failed to meet the appropriate standard of care rise to the level of malpractice.
The standard of care changes depending on the situation. In a chaotic, busy environment like an emergency room, the standard may be lower than it would be in a doctor’s quiet outpatient office. So, some mistakes that might be malpractice in a doctor’s office might not be considered malpractice in an ER, especially if the mistakes were relatively minor.
However, it is important to know that you can sue a doctor, nurse, other medical professional, or hospital for malpractice if they made a mistake in an emergency room as long as they failed to meet the standard of care for an emergency room in the community.
How Do You Figure Out the Standard of Care?
Many factors play a part in determining the standard of care for medical professionals. The standard for emergency room doctors is that they use the same level of skill and care that other reasonably competent emergency room doctors in their community would use in a similar situation. This is a legal definition, not a medical one, and it can vary from state to state. You should consult a medical malpractice lawyer in your state to find out more about your local laws.
If you sue a doctor for malpractice, you will need to establish the standard of care that fits your situation. You will have to get expert testimony from a doctor who practices the same kind of medicine in the same community as the doctor you are suing. This is a complex process, and you will need an experienced medical malpractice attorney to guide you through it.
Can You Sue a First Responder for Medical Malpractice?
Doctors and nurses are not the only ones who can make mistakes in emergencies. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs), ambulance crews, and firefighters, who treat people with medical emergencies or at the scene of accidents, may also make medical errors.
However, unlike doctors and nurses, first responders are usually protected against malpractice lawsuits. Some exceptions do exist, though, especially if the error was the result of extremely negligent or reckless behavior. The laws affecting first responder liability vary by state, so if you were harmed by the negligence of a first responder, contact a local attorney to find out more. In some cases, a first responder’s employer, rather than the first responder him- or herself, may be liable.
Can You Sue a Hospital for Medical Malpractice in the Emergency Room?
If a doctor made an error in an emergency room that rises to the level of malpractice, you can usually sue the hospital.
In this respect, emergency room malpractice is different from malpractice committed in other areas of the hospital. As a general rule, hospitals are responsible for the medical negligence of their employees. While this rule usually applies to nurses and other medical staff, it often doesn’t apply to doctors. That’s because doctors working in hospitals are often independent contractors, not hospital employees. So if you are harmed by a doctor’s negligence in a non-emergency area of a hospital, the doctor, but not the hospital, would be liable for malpractice.
In the emergency room, the situation is different. When you are taken to the emergency room, you are not going there to see any specific doctor. You will be treated by whoever is available, at that moment, to treat you. Also, in an emergency, the hospital won’t have time to inform you that your treating doctor is an independent contractor.
Like most rules that govern medical malpractice, the laws concerning hospital liability in emergencies vary from state to state. As always, you should talk to a lawyer in your state to find out exactly what the law is for you.
Can You Sue an Off-Duty Doctor Who Helps You in an Emergency?
If a doctor happens to pass by the scene of an accident or emergency while he or she is off-duty, and the doctor decides to help the person in need, the legal standards for malpractice don’t apply. Instead, the doctor is subject to a rule called the “Good Samaritan rule,” which applies to anyone who chooses to help someone when they are not legally required to do so.
The standard for someone helping when the Good Samaritan rule applies is that the helper doesn’t act in a way that is reckless and doesn’t needlessly endanger the person who is being helped.
An exception is when the doctor happens to already have a doctor-patient relationship with the person being helped. In that unusual situation, the doctor would usually be subject to the higher standard of the malpractice rules.
If You Were Harmed by Medical Error in an Emergency, We Can Help
If you believe that you or a loved one have been harmed because a medical professional treated you negligently in an emergency, our medical malpractice team can help. We would be glad to talk to you and evaluate your situation. We offer a free consultation with no obligation, and we will keep everything that you tell us confidential.
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