We go to the emergency room because we need immediate, competent medical attention. Sadly, not all emergency room staff perform to that standard. Understaffed, mismanaged, or mistake-prone emergency rooms can cause more harm than good, and, like all doctors and medical professionals, they can be liable for medical malpractice.
How do you know if you have a case? Here's a look:
Rights and Responsibilities
If you are in need of urgent medical care, most hospitals are obliged under federal law to provide it. (The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act applies to all hospitals that accept Medicare payment, which is nearly all of them.) So going in, you should know your rights as well as the responsibility for applicable emergency rooms to provide treatment:
- 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; and
- Emergency rooms may not deny patients treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or medical history, including an AIDS diagnosis.
Hospitals are allowed to transfer patients once they are stabilized or with their consent, or if they can receive better treatment elsewhere.
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. If a hospital failed to make reasonable inquiries when hiring staff for its emergency room, and an employee injures a patient, the hospital could be sued 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.
In addition, hospitals are required to ensure that they have enough emergency medical staff on duty to maintain quality patient care, and could be liable for injuries to patients resulting from a staff shortage in their emergency room.
If you were refused medical care or received substandard care in an emergency room, consult an experienced injury attorney about your case.