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Emergency Room Malpractice: When Can You Sue?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

We go to the emergency room because we need immediate, competent medical attention. Sadly, not all emergency room staff perform healthcare to that standard.

Understaffed, mismanaged, or mistake-prone emergency rooms can cause more harm than good. You can face misdiagnosis, medication errors, and general emergency room errors from busy staff.

And, like all doctors and medical professionals, the staff working in the emergency department can be liable for medical malpractice. How do you know if you have a medical malpractice case? Here's a look.

Rights and Responsibilities of Emergency Room Healthcare Providers

If you need urgent medical care, most hospitals are obliged under federal law to provide it. (The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act apply to all hospitals that accept Medicare payment, which is nearly all of them.)

So going in, you should know your rights and the responsibility for applicable emergency rooms to provide treatment.

You have rights to:

  • Emergency rooms and staff must provide screening examinations to determine if a medical emergency exists
  • Emergency rooms and staff must provide stabilizing treatment to anybody with a medical emergency (regardless of their insurance coverage or ability to pay)
  • Emergency rooms may not deny patients treatment based on race, ethnicity, religion, or medical history, including AIDS.

Doctors and staff can't simply ignore you and your medical needs -- this would be clear medical negligence.

Moving Patient Care in an Emergency Situation

However, if the emergency room doctors can't effectively treat your medical condition, you can legally be moved later on.

If a patient can receive better treatment elsewhere, hospitals are allowed to transfer patients only once:

  1. They are stabilized
  2. The staff has the patient's consent

Emergency Care Liability 101

Hospitals that fail to provide patients with a standard of care in their emergency rooms can be directly liable for their own negligence or "vicariously liable" for the negligence of their employees.

Sometimes hospitals fail to make reasonable inquiries when hiring staff for their emergency room. If an employee injures a patient, the patient could sue the hospital for negligent supervision or retention.

Hospitals could also be liable for patient injuries if emergency room staff fail to follow the orders of a patient's physician according to their medical records.

Staffing ER Doctors and Healthcare Professionals to Avoid Negligence

In addition, hospitals must ensure that they have enough emergency medical staff on duty to maintain quality patient care. They could be liable for injuries to patients resulting from a staff shortage in their emergency room.

If you or a loved one were refused medical care or received substandard care in an emergency room, consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney about your case.

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