Doctors have an obligation to do no harm to patients and use their best judgment and utmost care when treating patients. The emergency room is one of the most chaotic parts of any hospital, and doctors often have little time to assess patients requiring immediate care. When emergency room doctors make errors due to negligence, they commit medical malpractice and assume liability for the resulting damages to patients.
Understanding Negligence in Medical Malpractice Cases
Doctors must meet a standard of care (or an acceptable level of competence) when treating patients. Since emergency room doctors work in a much more hectic environment than other doctors, the standard of care is a bit less demanding for the emergency room.
For example, an emergency room doctor would more than likely fail to quickly and accurately identify a medical condition that would normally require specialist intervention. Under different circumstances and with the ability to thoroughly test in a less chaotic environment, failing to notice the condition may constitute medical malpractice.
Expert witnesses participate in every medical malpractice lawsuit. These individuals are typically professionals in the medical field who testify as to whether defendants in medical malpractice suits broke the acceptable standard of care in their cases. Essentially, expert witnesses will report to the court whether the defendant’s actions were medically acceptable in the circumstances. Expert witnesses may also testify as to the extent of the physical pain and mental anguish the plaintiff suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
To prove negligence in any medical malpractice case, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove four basic facts in court:
- An official doctor-patient relationship existed between the defendant and the plaintiff. This means both parties must have agreed to treatment. Doctors who treat unresponsive patients must use their best judgment to positively identify a patient’s condition and administer the appropriate treatment.
If a doctor treats a patient in a manner the patient would have refused had he or she been conscious, the doctor is not guilty of malpractice since the actions were competent and in good faith. However, if the doctor makes a negligent error during treatment, liability is assumed for the resulting damages.
- The doctor had a duty to act with reasonable care. This means that the doctor had an obligation to treat the plaintiff using accepted medical community standards and meet an appropriate standard of care for the situation.
- The doctor breached this duty in some way. This could include failing to test for a possible diagnosis, delaying diagnosis and worsening a patient’s condition, or some other error that harms the patient. In some cases, inaction constitutes a breach of duty if another reasonable and similarly skilled professional would have taken action in the same situation.
- The doctor’s negligence caused actual harm to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff did not suffer from the doctor’s mistake or did not incur losses as a result of the mistake, he or she has no claim. For a plaintiff to sue, the defendant must have caused measurable financial loss, physical pain, emotional distress, or permanent damage.
The emergency room is a chaotic place, and some doctors may make understandable, honest mistakes when attempting to quickly treat patients in distress. However, they must still provide an acceptable standard of care despite the stressful working environment. Otherwise, they risk injury to patients and liability for those damages.
If you’ve recently suffered due to an emergency room error in Arizona, call the office of Bode & Collins to schedule a case evaluation. We’ll review the details of your claim and let you know what to expect from filing a lawsuit. Our attorneys work closely with medical malpractice clients through the medical review board process and will take cases to trial if necessary. We put the full range of our experience and resources at clients’ disposal to provide comprehensive legal counsel in even the most complicated cases.