How Does Medical Malpractice Occur in Emergency Rooms?

January 4, 2021

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Many people go to the emergency room when they believe they are experiencing a life-threatening medical situation. As a result, we expect prompt and effective medical care at the emergency room. Unfortunately, due to the hectic nature of emergency room care, errors do occur. In some (though not all) cases, these errors may be the result of medical malpractice.

The law recognizes that errors will be made and adverse outcomes will occur during the course of even the most careful and skilled medical treatment. Thus, emergency room errors will only be found to have been the result of medical malpractice when emergency room staff failed to provide treatment in accordance with the applicable standard of care, defined as the actions and decisions that other reasonable medical providers of similar education and training would undertake in identical circumstances. In other words, if other reasonable emergency room personnel would have made the same mistakes, then the law will not hold them liable for medical malpractice.

Read more: How to Find Complaints Against a Doctor or Hospital

Common Examples of Emergency Room Errors

However, many incidents of emergency room error do arise from completely avoidable mistakes by emergency room staff. Some of the most common examples of ER errors arising from medical malpractice include:

  • Delayed treatment: Emergency rooms often get overcrowded, meaning there may not be enough beds, staff, or equipment to promptly treat everyone who comes into the ER. Although ER staff are required to triage patients as they come into a busy ER, with those suffering from serious or life-threatening injuries getting immediate treatment in preference to those patients who can safely wait for treatment, staff may incorrectly triage a patient or neglectfully allow a patient to wait for too long of a period before being seen by a nurse or doctor. 
  • Ignoring hospital policies: In the rush of ER work, staff may be tempted to cut corners. ER and hospital policies are designed to minimize errors by staff members. When doctors and nurses ignore these policies out of carelessness or as an intentional attempt to save time, they put patients at risk. Ignoring policies can include failing to properly or frequently check in on and monitor patients, making errors in paperwork, rushing lab testing, or transfusing the wrong blood type.
  • Improperly or prematurely discharging patients: Patients should only be discharged from the ER after they have received the medical care they need to stabilize their condition so that they can seek further treatment in an outpatient setting from their primary care physician or a specialist. However, patients are often improperly or premature discharged from emergency rooms while still needing acute medical care, leading to situations where those patients’ conditions worsen and they end up right back in the ER, or worse, admitted to the hospital.
  • Communication issues: Emergency rooms can get very chaotic, leading staff members to become overworked, stressed, and fatigued. This can lead to a breakdown of communication among medical staff in an ER and hospital, including failing to take complete patient histories or not passing along instructions and orders between physicians or during shift changes in the ER

Read more: Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania Years After Treatment?

Liability for Medical Malpractice in Emergency Rooms

Liability for emergency room errors can always be imposed upon those doctors and nurses whose errors and mistakes led to a patient’s harm. In many cases, these individuals are employed by the hospital, who can be subject to employer liability for staff negligence. However, in some cases, ER physicians are not employed by the hospital but instead work as independent contractors granted privileges by the hospital; a hospital cannot be held liable for an independent contractor physician’s negligence, but might be held accountable if it negligent granted privileges to a doctor who posed a risk of injury to patients.

Read more: Emergencies & Medical Malpractice FAQ

Contact A Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Consultation About Your Emergency Room Error Case in Pennsylvania

Were you or a loved one injured due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania? Then you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible for guidance on how to proceed. The Pittsburgh emergency room error attorneys at Goodrich & Geist, P.C. are prepared to assist you with your legal claim. We represent victims of negligent surgeons, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists in Pittsburgh and the surrounding Western PA counties. Call us today at (412) 766-1455 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. Our main office is located at 3634 California Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.