How Do I Prove Malpractice after an Emergency Room Visit?

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emergency room

The chaotic nature of hospital emergency rooms greatly complicates health care delivery. Also, some emergency rooms are located in or near areas that are virtual combat zones. 

Those injured in car accidents, shootings, stabbings, and other sources of trauma converge in emergency rooms. In addition, a global pandemic such as COVID-19 could make matters worse. 

Many emergency room physicians have to make life-or-death decisions. Sometimes, those decisions are wrong. An incorrect medical decision could lead to permanent physical impairment or death. 

However, that does not mean medical malpractice occurred. As long as a doctor makes a reasonable diagnosis and treats a patient within accepted medical standards, there is no medical malpractice. 

Medical malpractice could occur at any point when obtaining medical care. It does happen in emergency rooms for many possible reasons. The following explains how to build a strong medical malpractice claim if substandard care caused you to suffer a subsequent personal injury or illness. 

Four Elements of a Strong Medical Malpractice Case

There are four critical elements to any successful medical malpractice claim. If you cannot demonstrate any of these elements, the entire case falls apart no matter how strong your other evidence might be.

The four elements to prove in any successful medical malpractice claim are:

  • Doctor-patient relationship
  • Standard level of care not given
  • Negligence caused a substandard level of care
  • You suffered harm

Demonstrating the four elements of medical malpractice and how each applies in your case could build a very strong claim for emergency room medical malpractice. Failure to do so could end with a judgment in favor of the defendant doctor. 

Identifying Your Doctor in the Emergency Room

If you want to hold a doctor accountable for medical malpractice in an emergency room, you need to show there was a doctor-patient relationship. That means you discussed your case with a particular doctor who then determined the type of care that you would receive. 

An emergency room has lots of doctors and usually at least one who is in charge. Therefore, you cannot just name the head doctor in charge of the emergency room as a defendant. It has to be the doctor who was in charge of your care and determined how it would proceed. 

You need to name the primary physician who directly provided your medical care. Also, you would have to show a doctor-patient relationship existed. That doctor likely has signed off on the medical diagnosis, issued care directives, and provided you with direct medical care. 

Establishing the Standard Level of Care

After demonstrating the doctor-patient relationship, you would need to establish a standard level of care for treating the condition for which you sought medical care during the emergency room visit. 

If you broke your arm, a standard level of care could include an X-ray and a cast to immobilize and protect the broken limb while the bone heals. It also might include surgery to insert one or more screws to hold the broken bone together and initiate healing. 

Those are examples of standardized levels of care for a particular type of injury. If the emergency room doctor and staff provided you with a standard level of care, it would be difficult to make a successful medical malpractice claim. It is when they violate the standard of care that malpractice occurs. 

Affirming Negligence and Substandard Care

You also need to demonstrate how the care administered in the emergency room was negligent. Substandard care is a requirement for medical malpractice and could happen in many ways. 

Even support staff could trigger a medical malpractice claim by accidentally dropping you while trying to transfer you from an examination table to a wheelchair. 

An experienced medical doctor who specializes in the type of care delivered in the emergency room could help to affirm negligence. The doctor could review the medical records and treatment and say whether it followed standard medical care. 

The emergency room doctor or other medical staff might have ignored standard care and proceeded with treatment that resulted in harm. That would be an example of substandard care. 

Proving Harm Occurred

The final element requires you to show proof of harm. Your injuries or illnesses that resulted from the malpractice could satisfy that element. A diagnosis from another doctor would be required to affirm the injury or illness exists. 

Some commonly encountered physical harms resulting from emergency room medical malpractice include:

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Head injury
  • Heart attack
  • Perforated bowel
  • Foreign object left in a surgical wound

Pain and suffering commonly go along with medical malpractice. That is especially true if the patient has to undergo one or more surgical procedures as a result.

However, the harm manifests itself in more than a physical sense on the patient. Medical costs that arose from corrective treatment are another type of harm. That includes the cost of transportation and time away from work to obtain medical treatment. 

If you miss work for an extended period, the lost wages could be recovered as a type of harm. So could the inability to continue engaging in activities that your previously enjoyed doing if the malpractice made it difficult or impossible to continue. 

Full documentation accompanied by testimony from family, friends, doctors, and mental health professionals could help to confirm a variety of harm from medical malpractice. 

Administering the wrong medication also is a common way in which patients might suffer from medical malpractice. 

Delayed Diagnosis and Diagnostic Errors

Many malpractice claims arise from a doctor delaying a diagnosis that should have been addressed. The standard of care suggests certain medical conditions need to undergo testing and diagnosis to zero in on the specific medical problem. A delayed diagnosis might cause you to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening medical episode. 

For example, when a doctor delays those standard diagnostics, you could suffer a health event such as a heart attack. A doctor who followed the standard procedure would have had a better chance of preventing it. If another doctor confirms the diagnosis was delayed, that could be evidence of medical malpractice.

Diagnostic errors also could indicate emergency room malpractice. If the error causes a delay in treatment or leads to a deterioration of your health, malpractice could be claimed. 

Potential Defenses against Medical Malpractice Claims

If you present a weak medical malpractice claim, a doctor could pose potentially several effective legal defenses. Emergency room doctors could claim they were not the primary physicians when medical malpractice claims are made. It would be the duty of the plaintiff to prove a particular doctor provided the care. 

The doctor also could claim the standard level of care was delivered and the patient simply had an unusual reaction. As long as the doctor presents a strong case for abiding by accepted medical standards of care, it would be very difficult to show negligence occurred. 

If any of the first three elements fall apart, the judge could dismiss the case with prejudice. That means it would be impossible to take that doctor to court over the same medical malpractice claim. 

The doctor also could say any harm that you experienced was not related to the care given in the emergency room. That is why it is critically important to thoroughly document the harm and be prepared to prove it in court. 

How a Malpractice Lawyer Could Help

An experienced medical malpractice lawyer could help you to build the best possible case by reviewing your situation and evidence. The lawyer could identify the strong points of your case and help to solidify its weaker elements. 

Further medical examinations or diagnoses might be needed to confirm the substandard care or harm done. 

A lawyer could help to arrange a medical examination with a reputable doctor who could review your medical records related to the treatment received. The doctor also could determine the extent of injuries and whether they commonly are related to the injuries cited in your malpractice claim. 

If you have a valid medical malpractice claim, a lawyer could help you to collect the relevant evidence. Then the lawyer could file a claim that is fully supported with solid evidence. 

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help to Hold Health Care Professionals Accountable

If you believe you or a loved one received improper medical care resulting in an injury, reach out to the experienced Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our legal team will thoroughly investigate the care you received and hold medical professionals and systems liable for medical malpractice. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.