The nature of emergency medical care affords medical providers who work in this specialty greater protection against liability for mistakes. However, doctors who are proven to act negligently in a case that results in harm can still be held liable for their errors. Patients must be able to directly connect the harm that they have suffered to negligence on the part of their doctor in order to recover compensation for the harm that was done.
Medical Malpractice Liability in Emergency Situations
First responders tend to have a high level of protection against liability because they need to make extremely quick medical decisions that could save the lives of the people who they are treating. Firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are covered by this protection.
If a patient can prove that a first responder acted negligently, these professionals may still be liable. In this case, the organization employing the responder will likely be held financially liable for the negligent act.
Once a patient is under the care of emergency room doctors and nurses, the added layer of protection against liability is removed. If a doctor makes a mistake in the emergency room, the patient must be able to prove that any other reasonable doctor in the same position would have acted differently to prevent harm.
In the case of medical malpractice in the emergency room, patients will typically be required to file a lawsuit against the hospital instead of the particular doctor.
The Good Samaritan Rule
Many people are familiar with the Good Samaritan rule that is in place in all 50 states. This rule dictates that a person who witnesses an emergency is not required by law to help the victims, but they are required to avoid doing harm if they choose to help. However, this rule does not apply to doctors who are working in an emergency room.
An exception is when doctors are off-duty. Doctors who are not working when witnessing a medical emergency are bound by the Good Samaritan rule instead of medical malpractice. It is important to be aware that medical malpractice still comes into play for off-duty medical providers if they have a preexisting doctor-patient relationship with the person to whom they are providing emergency treatment.
When Emergency Rooms Refuse Treatment
Emergency rooms are typically required to provide treatment to anyone who seeks it if they are receiving funding for Medicare. It is common for hospitals to receive this funding. While hospitals are not required to provide full treatment to everyone who arrives in the emergency room, they are required to do screenings and stabilize the patient.
These requirements are dictated by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Emergency treatment must be provided regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for their medical care. Failure to provide emergency treatment may result in a lawsuit against the hospital.
Getting Help with Malpractice
Because medical malpractice law is very complicated, it is recommended that anyone who feels that they were the victim of malpractice consult an attorney. Laws related to medical malpractice during emergency situations vary depending on the state, and lawyers who are licensed to practice in a certain state will be aware of these laws. Anyone who feels unable to pay for legal representation should be aware that many law professionals offer a free initial consultation to provide potential clients with guidance in their unique situation.