What Duties Do ER Personnel Have to Patients?
A recent NY Daily News article describes the nightmare that Anthony Medlin lived through one night in the Bronx. That evening Anthony was attacked by a mugger, and darted out into the street to escape him and was then hit by a car. When the ambulance arrived the paramedics found Anthony lying on his back in the street, and rushed him to Lincoln Hospital. Anthony had significant but treatable injuries. However, instead of treating him as the emergency case that he was, Anthony was categorized as low priority and allowed to wait for over two hours in the hospital emergency room before being examined by a doctor. By the time they discovered his critical back injuries and rushed him to surgery it was too late, and he was paralyzed from the waist down.
What Can Someone Like Anthony Do?
Frightening stories like Anthony’s should give all of us pause, and should also have us asking what legal duties emergency medical staff owe to their patients. It’s important to ask that question because the courts can be an important tool for setting the situation right, but it’s not enough simply to tell a judge that something is unfair. Before the court can do anything to fix the situation, the patient must prove that the medical staff committed medical malpractice. And to do that, he or she will need to prove that the medical staff owed him or her a duty, failed to perform that duty, and as a result the patient suffered harm. Which leaves the critical question: what duties do emergency medical providers owe to their patients?
Duties of Emergency Medical Providers
The law has always required doctors and other medical providers to provide competent care and to exercise a reasonable degree of caution when treating patients. Additionally, however, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) places specific duties upon emergency medical providers. EMTALA requires that emergency rooms and other emergency medical providers screen any patient for medical emergencies upon request, and then treat any emergencies they find until the patient is stabilized.
In cases like Anthony’s, there is a very good argument that the emergency staff breached both their duties to screen and stabilize emergency patients as well as to exercise a reasonable degree of care. In Anthony’s case, the paramedics provided information to the emergency department that he had been found in the street and was suspected to have been hit by a car. However, the hospital had recently installed an electronic notetaking system, and the emergency nurses never saw those notes. Instead, they treated Anthony as though his only injuries were superficial scratches on his face. As a result of failing to read the paramedic’s notes, failing to properly screen Anthony, and failing to detect his injuries and stabilize them, Anthony ended up paralyzed. Under these circumstances, a court could easily find the emergency staff had breached its duties, opening the door to a medical malpractice verdict.
Hopefully nothing like Anthony’s nightmare will ever happen to you, but if it does you will definitely need the services of an expert attorney. Our firm specializes in representing victims of medical malpractice, and our attorneys have vast experience trying cases involving New York hospitals like Lincoln. If you’ve had a bad experience in the emergency room and want to speak with an attorney, please call us to set up a free consult today.