Unfortunately, the nature of emergencies is that conditions automatically become more tense, and this increases the likelihood of an error to arise. Emergency room hospitals and staff may be held liable for medical malpractice in this scenario. However, there are some professionals who may be exempt from being held responsible, including EMTs and some doctors.
Special Considerations for Medical Malpractice
Malpractice scenarios that unfold in emergency medical situations involve special rules and considerations that are not in effect in other medical settings. For example, when emergency medical care is being administered, many state laws are in effect to protect first responders. This means that emergency first responders aren’t under the same level of scrutiny that applies to nurses and doctors, even when they are working together on the same patient.
Medical Emergency Malpractice Liability
Hospital patients who are injured or neglected by medical staff in an emergency situation may have cause to file suit. However, it depends upon who it was that acted with negligence or recklessness.
State Protection for First Responders
Most states have statutes protecting those emergency workers who respond first to an emergency scenario from being sued. This can refer to professionals such as ambulance crews, emergency medical technicians and firefighters. These laws and protections were added in order to preserve and protect emergency services within a state, which would otherwise face frequent lawsuits.
That said, first responders aren’t totally immune to being sued for malpractice. While precise laws and conditions vary from one state to the next, a first responder can be sued if they do something blatantly negligent, extremely reckless or intentionally harmful. Ultimately, even in these cases, the first responder’s employer will be the one who is ultimately held responsible both legally and financially.
Standard Malpractice Rules
Normal rules governing medical malpractice apply to doctors and nurses in the emergency room. However, the patient must prove their case and show that competent professionals in the same exact situation would’ve acted differently and more attentively. Since emergency rooms are often hectic, there is a different standard here than in a calmer hospital setting.
Hospitals Are Often the Recipient of Malpractice Claims
Because the hospital employs the doctors, nurses and other professionals in the ER, they are usually responsible for negligent or reckless behavior of their staff. However, in many cases, staff doctors work as independent contractors and are not hospital employees. In non-emergency cases, the hospital would not be liable for that physician’s negligence.
However, when doctors who are independent contractors are working in an emergency room, conditions are different. Since the patient needs the emergency room and is not consulting that particular doctor, the hospital retains liability. Also, the patient will not be aware that the ER doctor is working independently. As a result, the hospital is considered responsible for any malpractice from the doctor who is working for them in an emergency room setting.
The Good Samaritan Rule?
While there is no legal obligation for a citizen to assist someone who needs medical help, if they do, they must do so in a way that does not recklessly endanger the individual in need of help. As long as they act reasonably, they are covered by the “Good Samaritan Rule.”
This protective rule applies in all 50 states, but does not apply to medical professionals unless they are out in the public in the same impromptu scenario. However, if the doctor and patient already have a medical relationship, the legal standard will be in effect even if they interact outside of an office or hospital setting.
Emergency Rooms Refusing Treatment
Most hospitals receive Medicare funding, making them subject to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Under this law, no patient can be turned away even if they cannot pay. Hospital emergency rooms are required to screen the injured or sick person and stabilize them.
Violating these rules and refusing treatment could lead to liability even if the hospital transferred the patient to another ER or the patient actually was able to pay. In these cases, the hospital would be liable, not the ER doctor.
Medical malpractice law is extremely complex and varies quite a bit from state to state. If you believe you have been the victim of emergency room malpractice, seek counsel from a skilled medical malpractice attorney and protect your rights.