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How Does Medical Malpractice Work in Emergency Situations?

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Updated February 21, 2020 | Medical Malpractice |


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

How does it apply to 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 and 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 their actions were intentional. Because first responders are generally employees of a particular facility, employers are legally and financially responsible for medical malpractice.

How does it apply to 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 they 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. A courtroom will likely involve an expert medical witness.

How does it apply to 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.

How does it apply to 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, which 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 act applies even in cases where patients are transferred to another ER or if the patient could have paid for medical services.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been a victim of medical malpractice, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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