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Apr 28, 2017

Medical malpractice in the emergency room

If you’ve ever visited an emergency room, you know that it can be a pretty crazy place. People rush in with traumas and perceived traumas, all seeking immediate assistance. The person in charge of all this chaos is the emergency room physician. This is one of the most challenging positions in the medical field.

This fast-paced emergency room environment may provide an emergency room physician latitude as far as medical malpractice law compared to other doctors who have the luxury of time to analyze, diagnose, and contemplate a proper course of treatment. Nonetheless, this latitude is limited, and an emergency room physician is still held accountable for any harm that’s the result of his or her sub-standard care.

A patient must prove at least three elements for a successful medical malpractice action based on negligence in the emergency room:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed;
  • The emergency room treatment involved negligence; and
  • The patient suffered harmed as a direct result of the negligence.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

A Doctor-Patient Relationship. This element is typically pretty easy to establish: when a doctor examines a patient or provides treatment in an emergency room, the doctor-patient relationship is generally established. There’s no need for the patient to prove that a continuing doctor-patient relationship was established beyond the initial emergency room treatment—just that the relationship existed when the alleged malpractice occurred.

Negligence. A doctor acts negligently if he or she doesn’t provide the quality of care that other reasonably competent doctors would have provided in similar situations. In order for a medical malpractice lawsuit to be successful, the patient must prove two additional elements to demonstrate negligence—the standard of care and a breach of that standard.

Standard of Care. This is a legal term that refers to the level of competence with which most physicians would have conducted themselves in similar circumstances in treating the patient. In some instances, an emergency room doctor will be given some leeway because the emergency room standard of care is typically not as high as the standard of care would be in a less busy environment, such as a doctor’s office. Establishing the standard of care generally requires expert testimony. The patient’s counsel will engage an experienced doctor specializing in emergency medicine to analyze the standard of care and the doctor’s actions. The expert witnesses will review the medical records, deposition testimony, and other evidence to form an opinion on the type of treatment would have been reasonable and competent under the circumstances.

Breach of the Standard. Following this testimony, the expert will show how the emergency room treatment that was actually received from the doctor failed to satisfy the appropriate standard of care under the circumstances (a breach of the duty), and what a reasonably competent doctor have done.

Damages from the Negligence. Finally, to be successful with a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must show that the physician’s negligence caused foreseeable harm. Damages may include pain and suffering, medical expenses for additional corrective treatment, the loss of earning capacity, and the loss of the ability to enjoy life.

If you believe you or a loved one were treated with poor medical care in an emergency-room setting, contact Dr. Jack Tolliver for a review for your medical records. Dr. Tolliver spent many years as an emergency room physician himself, so his unique background in both law and medicine gives him the edge in reviewing these cases for medical malpractice. Contact us today for a free consultation about your case.


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