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How does medical malpractice work in emergency situations?

February 7, 2017

There are special medical malpractice rules in medical mistakes in an emergency room (ER). ER doctors aren’t immune to malpractice lawsuits, but their cases have differential treatment in court.

Malpractice in First Responders

In Indiana, first responders—ambulance crews, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians—have strong protections from medical malpractice lawsuits. Being the first person on the scene of an accident or illness means making a number of decisions on the spot or without having all relevant information about an injury.

However, this protection is not absolute. First responders that do something extremely reckless or negligent could be liable, especially if the actions were intentional. Because first responders are generally employees of a particular facility, employers are legally and financially responsible for medical malpractice.

Emergency Room Doctors and Nurses

Emergency room doctors and nurses have a bit more leeway than non-ER doctors and nurses. Despite this, the medical malpractice laws remain the same: plaintiffs must be able to prove the existence of a doctor-patient relationship, that negligence took place during the course of their care, and that the patient suffered harm as a result of the negligence. Because of the rushed nature of emergency room medical care, the negligence must be severe—like a major misdiagnosis, a very incompetent doctor, or an extreme surgical error. In a courtroom, this will likely involve an expert medical witness.

Good Samaritans

Good Samaritan laws protect medical professionals from being sued if they offer assistance at an emergency (within reason). A doctor cannot be judged by medical malpractice rules for intervening in an emergency situation outside of a medical facility. In cases where the injured party has a doctor-patient relationship with the Good Samaritan doctor, however, the legal standard for medical malpractice remains in effect.

Hospitals

Hospitals are generally responsible for a medical staff person’s medical malpractice in the emergency room (as long as it’s within the scope of the physicians’ responsibilities).

Any hospitals that receive Medicare funding must follow the rules in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). This means that, even if the patient cannot pay, the ER can’t refuse treatment. The ER must provide a medical screening and stabilize the person’s condition. This applies even in cases in which patients are transferred to another ER or if the patient could have paid for medical services.

Medical Malpractice Attorneys

If you’re in Indiana and seeking representation for a medical malpractice case, our medical malpractice attorneys may be able to help. We have on-staff nurse consultants who work directly with our malpractice attorneys to help build the strongest malpractice case. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out a contact form for a free, no-obligation consultation on your options.

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