Emergency room healthcare facilities like hospitals or free-standing emergency medical departments provide immediate care to patients suffering from a wide variety of problems – injuries from car crashes, heart attacks, animal bites, broken bones and strokes. The pace of emergency rooms is generally fast and frantic as medical professionals triage injuries and illnesses. The current disturbing trend in hospital staffing shortages has also had an impact. Lack of communication and fragmented medical care by various medical professionals – physicians, nurses, mid-level providers, clerks, and others – can often also exacerbate the situation. In such an environment, mistakes can and do occur.
If negligence occurs in the emergency room (ER) setting, does a patient have legal recourse? The short answer is that if the medical professional’s actions or inactions satisfy the legal elements of medical malpractice, the patient may be able to prevail in a lawsuit and obtain compensation for damages incurred.
Common ER Malpractice Claims
The following are common malpractice claims that arise from the care provided in the emergency rooms in Florida hospitals:
Delayed Diagnosis – Delayed diagnosis is a common malpractice claim related to the emergency room. Health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, and infections require prompt identification and treatment, and delays can result in complications and even death.
Misdiagnosis – Diagnostic errors are a well-known patient safety concern throughout all aspects of medicine, but particularly so in emergency rooms. A 2022 report prepared by John Hopkins University for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an agency within U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stated that more than 7 million incorrect diagnoses are made in American emergency rooms every year. According to the Johns Hopkins study, among the most common emergency room misdiagnoses are stroke, heart attack, aortic aneurysm/dissection, spinal cord compression/injury and venous thromboembolism. These account for approximately 40% of harm among misdiagnosed patients.
Medication Errors – Medication errors can happen in the chaos of an emergency room. Communication gaps, illegible handwriting, inadequate verification processes, and the presence of multiple doctors and healthcare providers can all add to medication errors. Mistakes in medication include prescribing, administering and monitoring. An overdose in an emergency care setting can occur as well.
Surgical Errors – Surgery is performed frequently following an emergency room situation. Whether it involves internal bleeding, appendix removal, or obstructive hernias, emergency surgeries are complex and require quick evaluation and decision-making. This can result in mistakes including organ perforation, wrong-site surgeries or incorrect incisions. Inadequate pre-operative planning, miscommunication, and fatigue may all contribute to a situation that makes surgical errors more likely.
Lack of Informed Consent – A major tenet of medical care is informed consent. That is, patients must be apprised of the potential risks, benefits and alternatives to a proposed procedure. In the frequent turmoil of an emergency room, it is often difficult to ensure that informed consent is obtained from a patient or his or her representative.
Failure to Properly Triage – A major challenge faced by emergency room medical personnel is identifying in what order to treat ill and injured patients. Failure to put an extremely sick patient in front of the treatment line may be the result of negligence rising to the level of medical malpractice.
Improper Discharge – A patient with an emergency condition usually needs to stay for monitoring or admittance. Unfortunately, some patients die soon after an emergency room visit when they are discharged too early.
There are many other errors and types of negligence that may occur in the emergency room setting.
How to Protect Yourself from Emergency Room Errors
Experts say that there are several steps that you or your family can take to safeguard against malpractice in the emergency room:
- Call 911 if the emergency is life-threatening. If you are brought to the emergency room by an emergency medical transporter, you will likely receive faster care than if you come through other methods. And calling 911 can save precious time in the event of extremely time-sensitive medical situations, such as heart attacks or strokes.
- When you arrive at the emergency room, you or someone advocating for you should call your primary care doctor, especially if your medical situation is complicated. Your doctor can talk to the medical professionals in the emergency room and explain your diagnosis in detail.
- Bring a support person if possible – a family member, friend or neighbor – who can listen to the medical professionals and advocate for you.
Bringing a Malpractice Case for Emergency Room Negligence
In Florida, the legal elements of medical malpractice are:
- The physician or medical provider owed a duty of care to the patient;
- The duty of care was breached by the physician or medical provider, and
- The breach resulted in compensable injuries by the patient.
Your attorney will require a high level of proof before filing a case because, in Florida, lawyers must certify in writing that they have a good faith basis to file the lawsuit.
A state’s statute of limitations provides the deadline for when a potential plaintiff must file their claim. In the State of Florida, the statute of limitations is usually two years from when the patient knew or should have known of the malpractice. However, it is not always easy to identify when or if the limitations have started. Because the window of time is short to file a medical malpractice claim, consider contacting an Orlando emergency room negligence attorney or a Fort Lauderdale emergency room negligence attorney at Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm, P.A. as soon as you believe you may have a legal claim.
Contact Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm for Immediate Assistance
Sometimes hospitals will approach patients directly and offer to negotiate a settlement. We strongly discourage proceeding forward without legal representation. Negotiating with the hospital directly creates unequal bargaining positions, as the hospital will know the value of your case, and you will not. Moreover, in most cases, at least in Florida, there are complicated liens against your settlement proceeds. These liens are in favor of entities such as Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs, or any other private group health insurance companies which have paid for your medical care. Malpractice lawyers understand how these liens work.
We have decades of experience working with medical malpractice cases and understand how urgent and sensitive your case is to you and your family. If you believe you are entitled to compensation for negligence in the emergency room, contact an Orlando emergency room negligence attorney or a Fort Lauderdale emergency room negligence attorney at Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm, P.A. today.