Emergency Department Negligence

An experienced medical malpractice lawyer will likely have investigated a number of cases involving various phases of emergency care including EMT negligence, paramedic negligence, nursing home negligence, hospital negligence, emergency room negligence and ER physician negligence. Though state law varies, there are some general principles that apply to emergency room negligence cases.

First Responders and Good Samaritans

First, many state laws include provisions granting immunity to first responders and emergency medical personnel in the setting of a true emergency. These laws are designed to account for the fact that in some circumstances, emergency medical providers are limited in the amount and quality of care that they can provide due to patient acuity, time constraints, severity of injury, and mass casualties. In a related manner, many states have enacted “good Samaritan” laws that provide legal immunity to medical providers who provide spontaneous medical care in an emergency situation outside of a hospital or medical office. Again, these laws are designed to protect physicians and nurses who provide emergency care in a suboptimal situation where they do not have support, proper equipment, or must provide services outside of their normal specialty.  

Depending on your state’s laws, immunity likely extends to first responders such as EMTs, paramedics, and fire department personnel who actively participate in a medical emergency — including transportation. Immunity typically does not apply once a patient arrives at the emergency department. In most states, once emergency room personnel take over, applicable standards of care apply to hold caregivers accountable for any acts of medical negligence. The immunity conferred by these laws is “qualified,” meaning that it protects physicians and nurses who act in an emergency setting, but does not protect them if they act recklessly.

Life Flight Helicopters

Another exception may apply to transportation by life flight. Life flight helicopters have a high rate of accidents. If an injury victim is killed as a result of a helicopter crash, immunity will not apply to the helicopter manufacturer or ground personnel involved in air traffic control decisions.  

Additional Protection in the ER

Once a patient is admitted to the emergency department, additional protections are afforded by the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). This federal law regulates hospitals in their treatment of patients with emergency medical conditions or who are in active labor. The federal legislation requires hospitals to stabilize patients before transfer, or to treat the patient within the best of their ability. The statute was enacted to prevent “patient dumping,” whereby a hospital transfers a patient to another hospital due to lack of insurance.  

Standard Procedures for the ER

Emergency medicine malpractice occurs for a number of reasons. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) sets forth guidelines and standards for emergency room physicians to follow in treating certain types of medical emergencies. In addition, hospitals have emergency department policies and procedures that regulate how emergency room physicians and nurses care for patients. Staff bylaws and regulations may set forth requirements for various specialists, like surgeons and neurosurgeons, to be available for consultation or emergency surgery. The Joint Commission (TJC), a hospital accreditation organization, also sets forth standards for emergency care as well as other hospital care. Some states govern trauma care by designating hospitals as trauma centers that must be equipped to handle certain types of traumatic injuries and medical emergencies. Finally, other professional guidelines apply to other medical emergencies such as heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism, spinal epidural abscess, obstetrical emergencies, and ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.  

Contact an Attorney

If you or a loved one have been harmed by an act of medical negligence in the emergency setting, it is important to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, like a medical malpractice lawyer in Cleveland, OH, who is familiar with state law, immunity laws, EMTALA, transfer agreements, and various applicable emergency medicine guidelines.

Thanks to Mishkind Kulwicki Law for their insight into emergency department negligence.