Medical Malpractice and Emergency Room Medicine

Medically reviewed by: lacolon2016

Medical Malpractice and Emergency Room MedicineWhen we need emergency care, the last thing we hope for or expect to encounter is medical staff in the Emergency Room who are not prepared to give us the care we need.

Medical malpractice claims are surprisingly common in the United States, and many of these errors take place in the Emergency Room.

These malpractice cases involve vulnerable patients who sought immediate care, and, through negligence, error, or improper treatment, had their condition worsened, injuries worsened, or in some cases, experienced a loss of life.

Standards of care in the Emergency Room

The Emergency Room is a hectic place where quick decisions need to be made. Despite the chaotic environment, doctors and other medical staff receive training, and each hospital has specific protocols to follow.

Doctors and other Emergency Room healthcare staff are held to the same standards of care as medical professionals working in any other environment.

The Emergency Room protocols and standards ensure proper care can be provided under these difficult circumstances. If an individual or organization fails to adhere to these procedures, the risk of harming patients, or indirectly harming them by providing inappropriate care is much higher.

The consequences for the patient can be life-altering.

Malpractice Rates for Emergency Room Care

In the United States, almost half of all medical malpractice injuries occur while patients are in Emergency Care.

What’s more, patients in the private system who are seeking non-emergency medicine have the luxury of seeking the best care available from physicians of their choice. In an emergency, our lives are put in the hands of whichever hospital, and the doctor is available, effectively removing the element of choice.  However, emergency physicians are well-trained and are usually up to the job of providing excellent care to all patients. Additionally, the emergency physicians also have the backup of the entire hospital staff of physicians, should unusual circumstances arise.

Common Emergency Room Errors                   

With Emergency Room errors making up almost half of all medical malpractice cases in the United States, trends have been identified for the most common emergency room malpractice errors.

These trends include:

  • Misdiagnosis

Emergency room doctors have very stringent guidelines to follow when making a diagnosis, and failure to follow these guidelines can result in errors. Common misdiagnoses in emergency rooms include heart attacks (particularly in women), appendicitis, and dismissing internal bleeding.  Again, however, a mistaken diagnosis in and of itself is not necessarily an indication of negligence.

Another critical error emergency room doctors (or any physician for that matter) make is dismissing rectal bleeding as being caused by hemorrhoids, when a thorough investigation for colon cancer should take place by either the emergency physician or by an emergency consultant.

  • Delayed treatment

In crowded Emergency Room wards, wait times can be an issue. In some cases, patients are made to wait so long or are not prioritized highly enough, which leads to a worsened medical condition, or even death.  This delay may occur at any point in the triage chain, and, also, may be unavoidable, as sicker patients are usually seen before other, less ill patients.

  • Incorrect medication or dosage

With limited time to act, it is not surprising that incorrect medication prescription or dosage is a common malpractice error made in Emergency Rooms. These errors can have a lifelong impact on patients and can even be fatal.  With newer, electronic health systems, these errors may be reduced, as red flags usually provide warnings about ordered medication errors.

These are not the only errors possible in an emergency environment, but they are all potential mistakes made by medical professionals in Emergency Rooms, and each may amount to negligence by an individual, or an organization.  A thorough investigation must be undertaken by both plaintiff and defense counsel to understand the true nature of the problem. An error may or may not have occurred.

Proving A Malpractice Claim

To prove that a patient’s health worsened due to negligence in the Emergency Room, it must be proven that, due to substandard care while in the emergency room, the condition worsened. This negligence may have caused a permanent or temporary worsening to occur.

Delayed treatment, misdiagnosis, incorrect medication, improper treatment, failure to provide appropriate tests, and failure to recognize worsening symptoms are all examples of situations where a patient’s medical outcome was worsened as a result of negligence.

To prove a claim of negligence or malpractice in the Emergency Room, a lawyer must demonstrate that another doctor, in the same situation, would have made a different,  decision and that the treatment of the patient fell below the standard of care.

A Plaintiff’s attorney must demonstrate how care should have been different, had medical professionals adhered to normal standards of care.  A defense attorney will try to demonstrate that the treatment rendered was appropriate. In either case, medical experts skilled in explaining complex topics to lawyers and juries will be critically important in proving or defending a case.

Exceptions to Malpractice Claims

In California, the Duty of Care applies to any member of the medical profession responsible for a patient’s health and well-being throughout treatment. This includes doctors, nurses, and even first responders.

Each professional has a specific set of guidelines, learned through training, practice, and based on certifications, that must be followed to ensure every patient receives proper care.

When it comes to malpractice claims against first responders, there are some complications in terms of filing a suit. The statute of limitations is very short, and an attorney should be prepared to move quickly if there is a reasonable case.

If a patient is injured, or their condition is worsened by a bystander or someone who is not a medical professional, there may be no claim of malpractice due to the Good Samaritan laws.


Medical malpractice can have a devastating impact on injured individuals, their family, and their friends.

When patients are at their most vulnerable and seeking immediate treatment, they rely on professionals to provide a standard of care and ensure that they do everything within their power to resolve the emergency.

When that standard of care is breached, and this breach results in an injury, patients may be entitled to compensation for what they have lost and suffered.

Prepare thoroughly and make diligent use of qualified experts who can evaluate the quality of the treatment, the quality of the claim, and the value of the evidence.  Additionally, an expert can identify all of the above and provide help in showing a jury why a standard of care was not breached.