Determining When Emergency Care Meets the Definition of Malpractice

Millions of Americans seek emergency medical care each year for symptoms such as vomiting, fainting, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. While most receive treatment that allows them to make a full recovery, others experience complications due to a healthcare provider's negligence. When this happens, seeking compensation under Louisiana's malpractice laws may be appropriate. Emergency room malpractice

Proving Emergency Room Malpractice

There are four elements that must be proven in a malpractice claim:

  • Duty. The defendant had a legal obligation to provide medical care.
  • Breach of Duty. The defendant failed to provide the appropriate standard of care for the patient's condition.
  • Damages. The patient suffered harm such as the need for additional medical procedures.
  • Causation. The breach of duty is the cause of the patient's damages.

For malpractice cases involving emergency room care, breach of duty can end up being a difficult point to establish. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and other personnel who work in a hospital emergency room are subject to a slightly different standard of care when compared to other healthcare professionals. The law recognizes that an ER is a hectic place and that diagnostic tests that would be appropriate in a traditional clinical setting aren't necessarily reasonable given the circumstances.

For example, imagine a young woman is bothered by severe headache pain. If she saw a specialist, he might order an MRI, CT scan, and other diagnostic tests to uncover the cause of her pain. If the woman visits the ER with the same issue, the doctor would likely take a brief medical history, provide her with some pain medication, and tell her to make an appointment with a specialist if the problem persists. This ER care, while less comprehensive than the specialist’s care, would be still considered appropriate under the circumstances—even if it's later discovered that the woman has a brain tumor.

Examples of emergency room care that may qualify as malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosing a heart attack or stroke
  • Failing to diagnose appendicitis
  • Failing to recognize signs of self-harm or suicidal tendencies
  • Giving a contaminated blood transfusion
  • Prescribing drugs with dangerous interactions or the incorrect doses
  • Failing to properly triage a patient

Depending on the circumstances, a malpractice suit may list the doctor, nurse practitioner, other healthcare providers, and/or the hospital itself as defendants.

Liability Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act

The majority of hospitals in the United States receive Medicare funding. As such, they are required to comply with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). They must screen and stabilize an ill or injured person regardless of the person's ability to pay for medical treatment. If they fail to do so, they can be held liable for financial damages similar to what would be collected in a malpractice suit. Failure to comply with the EMTALA provisions may still apply even if the hospital transferred the patient to another ER instead of outright refusing to provide treatment.

It's important to note that only the hospital can be held liable under EMTALA. Doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are exempt from EMTALA liability, regardless of their conduct.

Cases Involving Off-Duty Doctors and Nurses

Every state has some form of a Good Samaritan law that protects people who render emergency medical care at the scene of an accident. This includes concerned bystanders as well as off-duty doctors, nurses, and other trained medical professionals who volunteer to help provide emergency care. As Good Samaritans working in no official capacity, they are exempt from civil liability as well as any potential malpractice claim.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Since the malpractice laws regarding emergency medical care can be quite complex, it's recommended that you seek the assistance of an attorney skilled in handling this type of litigation. The legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is committed to helping Louisiana residents receive the compensation they need to move forward with their lives. Please call today to schedule a free, no-obligation case review at one of our six convenient office locations.