Emergency Room Errors

Medical errors are the root cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths per year in the United States. Among the thousands of errors committed by medical professionals every year, many occur in the emergency room.

In fact, one famous 1999 study called “To Err Is Human” found the emergency room to be the most common site of in-hospital medical errors. A newer study in 2021 found that high error rates with serious consequences are still most likely to occur in emergency departments.

From a bad diagnosis to prescribing the wrong drug, medical errors include a wide range of negligent behavior. The common thread, however, is that the mistake caused harm to a patient and could have been prevented.

Not all emergency room errors constitute medical malpractice.

For an incident to be considered malpractice, your legal team must be able to show that the:

  • Error caused direct harm
  • Error was preventable
  • Practitioner failed to heed other options

Only then are patients potentially entitled to compensation from emergency room malpractice cases.

While our roots are in Massachusetts and later New Hampshire and Rhode Island, Sokolove Law is a nationwide law firm with over 40 years of experience handling personal injury cases. We can help you determine if you have an emergency room malpractice case — get a free case review today.

Common Types of Emergency Room Errors

Emergency room errors are not always obvious. It may take days or even weeks for injuries to appear. Other mistakes may be immediately apparent.

Below are some of the most common emergency room errors.

Diagnostic Errors

In some cases, doing nothing may constitute malpractice. It’s the job of a doctor to properly diagnose a patient’s condition so as to get them the best care possible before their condition worsens. If an emergency room doctor misinterprets a patient’s symptoms and test results, the results can be devastating.

When an emergency room doctor fails to take the proper steps to diagnose a medical condition — commonly known as “failure to diagnose” — it is the patient who suffers. Delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis are responsible for 126,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, all because of health care providers who incorrectly diagnose common medical conditions.

Delaying or providing a patient with an incorrect diagnosis can lead to all kinds of health problems, such as improperly prescribed medications or missed opportunities to treat an emerging illness. Even if death is avoided, patients may suffer lasting physical or mental trauma.

Delays in Testing and Treatment

It’s called an “emergency room” for a reason: Patients who visit the ER are in urgent need of care, and delays only risk making a dangerous situation even worse. Whether it’s a physical injury, an overdose, an adverse drug reaction, or some other type of ailment, the longer a person is denied treatment, the worse the outcome may be.

In some cases, these delays may constitute malpractice, especially if healthcare professionals were negligent or careless in attending to patients’ needs.

Treatment delays may be blamed on a variety of factors:

  • Overcrowding
  • Understaffing
  • Poor funding
  • Simply an indifferent, overworked, or burnt-out hospital staff

Whatever the reason may be, excessive delays may make a patient’s chance for successful treatment slip away, at no fault of their own.

Medication Errors

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 1.3 million people are harmed by medication errors each year. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), these errors may include wrong dosages or the wrong medication, and the rate of occurrence actually appears to be on the rise.

While elderly patients are especially vulnerable to medication errors, that’s not necessarily the case in emergency rooms, where drug prescriptions are given frequently to patients seeking help.

When an ER doctor prescribes the wrong drug or the wrong dosage, they should be held accountable for their wrongdoing.

Some examples of medication errors include the following:

  • Overdose
  • Improper dosage
  • Pharmacy errors
  • Poor communication with patients
  • Failing to observe allergies or medical histories
  • Failing to disclose side effects

Miscommunication With Patients

A good portion of all medical errors can be attributed to poor communication — not just between a doctor and patient, but also between a doctor and other medical professionals.

Patients may have complex medical histories, including allergies, addictions, sensitivities, or adverse health conditions. Failing to account for these when administering treatment can lead to injury or even death. Likewise, failing to hand off information during an ER staffing change can be equally devastating.

Communication is critical in any healthcare environment. This is especially true in an emergency room, where difficult decisions need to be made quickly and at every stage of a patient’s visit: from triage, to examination of symptoms, to testing and diagnosis, to follow-up instructions for the patient.

A communication breakdown at any one of these stages may lead to a bad situation that injures or even kills a patient.

Unsanitary Conditions in the Emergency Room

Among the most common emergency room errors is poor sanitation. Medical professionals are trained from day one to disinfect, sanitize, and decontaminate medical equipment, as well as the rooms where treatment is administered. Failing to do so can result in patients suffering deadly infections that are, in some cases, completely unrelated to the condition that brought them to the ER in the first place. Particularly unsanitary environments may even constitute medical malpractice.

For example, blood transfusions are common practice in many emergency rooms, especially in situations where patients have suffered blood loss. Transfusions can save lives, but if the blood used is contaminated, it can infect and even kill patients.

Premature Discharge or Failure to Follow Up

Sometimes hospital staff are overwhelmed and feel a need to discharge patients to make room for others, especially in emergency rooms — but this, too, can be deadly.

If a patient suffering a medical condition or injury is discharged prematurely, they likely won’t have a medical professional on hand to treat them if the condition worsens, which could lead to more serious injuries or even death.

Doctors need to observe certain health indicators — such as stable vital signs, screenings, and tests — before deciding to discharge a patient. Failing to administer those tests or follow-up visits may be considered medical malpractice.

How Do Emergency Room Malpractice Cases Work?

There are several stages to an emergency room malpractice case.

Here’s a basic overview of the legal process:

  1. For any patient suspecting medical malpractice, the first step is to consult with an attorney who can help them determine the viability of their case. While emergency room errors happen, not all are considered malpractice.
  2. Once it’s determined that a patient has suffered medical malpractice, an emergency room medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed.
  3. Then the discovery phase begins. This is the period in which attorneys collect and examine documentation, records, and additional evidence. During this phase, both plaintiff and defendant attorneys will request relevant information from each other to establish the facts of the case.
  4. The plaintiff’s legal team may need to hire an impartial expert medical witness to investigate and testify to the details of the case. Such an expert witness will establish a standard of care and help determine if the negligence or malpractice occurred.
  5. Depending on the amount of evidence obtained during the discovery phase, the parties involved may wish to settle out of court. Whether or not the offered settlement is acceptable to the plaintiff depends on the details of the case, but most malpractice cases settle out of court.

If you think you or a loved one have an emergency room medical malpractice case, get a free legal consultation for your unique circumstances today.

How to Prove Emergency Room Medical Malpractice

Few medical malpractice lawsuits are open-and-shut cases. Hospitals and doctors may be shielded from liability, so the burden of proof is on the plaintiff and their legal team.

Medical malpractice attorneys must show that any injury or harm suffered during an emergency room visit amounts to medical malpractice. Only then can compensation be negotiated or awarded.

Generally, the legal team needs to prove the following:

  1. The standard of care owed to the patient by the physician was breached
  2. The patient’s treatment involved negligence
  3. The doctor’s negligence harmed the patient

Depending on the nature of the case, plaintiffs may also need to show that alternative treatment options were available to hospital staff but were disregarded, skipped, or bypassed altogether.

Proving a medical malpractice case may seem overwhelming, but our lawyers can help you every step of the way. Reach out to us today to see if you may have a case.

Contact an Emergency Room Malpractice Attorney

If you believe you have suffered unjust harm or injury as a result of an emergency room error, contact Sokolove Law for a free consultation.

The medical malpractice attorneys at Sokolove Law work on a contingency fee basis, which means that consultations are free and you pay nothing upfront to retain a lawyer.

Sokolove Law has roots in the New England area, having started in Massachusetts and expanded into New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Today, Sokolove Law is a nationwide law firm, with experience helping clients in every state.

Remember that time is of the essence. Statutes of limitations restrict how much time a victim has to file a lawsuit. Don’t delay — contact us today, you may be entitled to compensation if you’ve been injured.

FAQ About Emergency Room Malpractice Cases

Can you sue the emergency room?

Yes — if you suffered harm or injury as the result of an emergency room visit, you may be able to sue the hospital where the ER was located or the doctor who provided your care. The error that caused your injury may be the result of miscommunication, delayed treatment, medication or diagnostic errors, unsanitary conditions, or other factors.

In all cases, however, success is not guaranteed. It is sometimes difficult to prove emergency room malpractice, and patients should be aware of both the effort and time involved in a successful outcome.

If you believe you are the victim of an emergency room error, consult an attorney to learn more about what to expect from an emergency room malpractice lawsuit.

How much does an emergency room malpractice lawsuit cost?

Most attorneys, including those at Sokolove Law, will assess a potential malpractice case for free. In fact, patients may spend less by hiring professional attorneys than if they filed suit on their own.

Only once a settlement or verdict is reached will a medical malpractice attorney seek payment. This is what’s known as a contingency fee. In successful emergency room malpractice lawsuits, injured victims rarely have any out-of-pocket costs. If a lawsuit is unsuccessful, the victim’s legal team does not take an attorneys’ fee.

Do I have a case for emergency room malpractice?

It’s difficult to judge whether or not your case will satisfy the legal definition of malpractice — which is required to obtain a settlement or verdict — without first talking to an attorney.

Even if your claim seems open and shut, you must consider the resources and experience of a hospital’s legal team. That’s why it’s so important to have a good legal team on your side.

Reach out to Sokolove Law today for a free legal case evaluation.

Do emergency room error malpractice cases have a statute of limitations?

The length of time a patient has to file a lawsuit after a medical error varies from state to state. These time limits are called statutes of limitations. In many states, the limit is a little as one year.

Because of statutes of limitations, it’s important to act quickly if you think you might have a case. Your legal team can help you determine any potential state time limits. Reach out to Sokolove Law to find out what legal options may be available to you.

Author:Sokolove Law Team
Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: September 3, 2021

View 9 Sources
  1. AARP, “Medication Errors More Than Double.” Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2017/medication-errors-rise-fd.html. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.
  2. Clinical Orthopaedics and related Research, “An Introduction to Medical Malpractice in the United States.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628513/. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.
  3. Emergency Medicine Journal, “Preventable deaths in patients admitted from emergency department.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564342/. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.
  4. HG.org, “When Can You Sue for Emergency Room Malpractice?” Retrieved from https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/when-can-you-sue-for-emergency-room-malpractice-41863. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.
  5. Institute of Medicine, “To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225187/. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.
  6. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Medical Liability/Malpractice Statutes of Limitation.” Retrieved from https://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/medical-liability-malpractice-statutes-of-limitation.aspx. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.
  7. ScienceDaily, “Medical errors in the emergency room: Understanding why.” Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180728084100.htm. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.
  8. StatPearls. "Medical Error." Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430763/. Accessed on March 4, 2021.
  9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Working to Reduce Medication Errors.” Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-consumers-and-patients-drugs/working-reduce-medication-errors. Accessed on Feb. 24, 2021.