An emergency room is by nature a chaotic, unpredictable place. For this reason, ER physicians are in an especially challenging position. Medical malpractice law gives emergency room medical staff a bit more leeway to account for the urgent nature of their decisions. However, flexibility is limited and physicians are held to the same high standards of general practitioners, surgeons, and doctors in all areas of practice.
As with all medical malpractice cases, patients must prove that three elements of substandard care existed in the emergency room, including:
- A doctor-patient relationship
- The treatment given was negligent
- The patient was harmed as a result of the negligence
The doctor-patient relationship is typically the easiest element to prove. If a physician examines or provides treatment to an ER patient, the relationship has been established. The relationship does not need to continue beyond the initial examination. Hospital records showing the patient was admitted to the ER and corresponding treatment charts are almost always sufficient evidence.
Negligence may be harder to prove depending on the circumstances surrounding your case. If a doctor fails to provide the standard of care that a reasonably competent doctor would have provided under the same or similar circumstances, negligence exists. Two factors must be proven to successfully demonstrate negligence. These are:
- The standard of care
- A breach of that standard
What is “Standard of Care”?
In medical malpractice terminology, standard of care refers to a level of competence that most doctors would maintain within a similar circumstance. As a result of the hectic nature of ERs, the standard of care is not as high as that of a family practitioner’s office. For instance, if a patient sees his family specialist about severe headaches, the specialist will likely perform multiple tests, rule out certain diagnoses, and run MRIs or CT scans. If the same patient goes to the ER instead, the doctor on duty may simply send the patient home with some pain medication and instructions to contact his specialist for further testing and treatment. If the headaches turn out to be caused by a malignant brain tumor, the family specialist could be facing a lawsuit for failure to diagnose cancer. However, the ER doctor would not have been expected to investigate the headaches to the same extent. The job of an ER doctor is to deal with urgent health problems that require urgent attention.
Negligence Still a Possibility
While an ER doctor may have a lower standard of care compared to a family specialist, an ER doctor’s negligence resulting in harm to the patient may lead to a viable medical malpractice case. For example, a patient who comes to the ER with severe pain in her ankle is diagnosed with a strain when a fracture is the underlying issue. The physician missed the fracture on the X-ray, and the patient leaves after the physician tapes and wraps her foot. Days later, the patient comes back because the pain has suddenly gotten worse. At that point, another doctor diagnoses a fracture.
Did the first doctor’s failure to diagnose the fracture actually cause harm? Did the fracture get worse because the ankle wasn’t properly immobilized? This is the gray area in which malpractice cases can become complicated. Having an experienced malpractice attorney by your side can greatly improve your chances of proving your case and receiving the compensation you deserve.
Berkowitz and Hanna LLC – Medical Malpractice Attorneys
At Berkowitz and Hanna LLC, we understand how traumatic emergency medical problems can be. It is easy to feel as though you’ve lost all control when a serious medical condition or injury occurs. While most people look to their doctor for competent care, expert treatment, pain relief, and peace of mind, this level of care is not always met in the ER. Our team of skilled, compassionate attorneys knows that poor communication and negligent care can lead to sickness, injury, and even death. We understand the emotional complexities surrounding medical malpractice cases, and how financially devastating even minor errors can be. At Berkowitz and Hanna LLC, we will be by your side from start to finish. If you’ve been injured as a result of medical negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other associated costs. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today for a free consultation.