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Can you sue for malpractice suffered in an emergency room?

If you go to an emergency room (ER) or take a loved one there, you likely aren't expecting the same level of personalized care that you receive in your doctor's office or if you checked in for a scheduled hospital stay. However, emergency room patients are entitled to a specific standard of care. When that doesn't occur and a patient is further injured or sickened as a result, legal action may be warranted.

So what responsibilities do emergency room staff members have to their patients? That's covered under something called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. This law applies to any hospital that gets reimbursement from Medicare, which is just about all of them.

The staff must provide the treatment needed to stabilize someone in an emergency situation, even if they don't have insurance and can't afford the service.

The staff is required to provide screening exams as needed to determine whether there is an emergency situation. Maybe a person is having chest pains. Doctors should first determine whether they're having a heart attack. Actually, ambulance personnel often have equipment on their vehicles that can help with that diagnosis before the patient even reaches the ER.

The ER staff can't deny treatment to someone based on race, religion or ethnicity. They also can't deny treatment based on medical history or some other medical condition, such as AIDS.

In an ER, medical professionals often have to focus on the immediate problem at hand. In the chest pain scenario, they'd have to rule out a heart attack or other source of immediate danger before they move on to determining other potential causes. Once an ER patient is stable, doctors may ask consent to transfer them to another facility that can offer better diagnostic tools and/or treatment.

Under what circumstances can hospitals and/or medical personnel be liable for malpractice? One example would be if ER staff harmed a patient because they failed to follow the attending doctor's orders. If a patient was harmed by substandard care caused by a lack of sufficient staff in an ER or a doctor or other health care provider whom they should have known was unqualified, that could also be grounds for litigation.

If you believe you or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice in an ER, it's best to talk with an experienced medical malpractice attorney regarding your individual situation.

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