Is Delayed Emergency Room Treatment Considered Malpractice?

If emergency room treatment was unreasonably delayed and a patient was harmed or injured by the unreasonably delay, then there can be liability for medical malpractice. Typically the hospital managing the ER is the liable party, but individual medical professionals may also be accountable for their actions or inaction.

Overcrowded ERs are not a unique problem in New York or even the U.S. In late October, a 70-year-old man in Quebec died after returning home from the ER, having spent 16 hours at a hospital seeking emergency medical treatment. The incident briefly made international news, but it’s a story that’s relatable to anyone who’s been to the ER.

When we are seriously injured or believe we are suffering from a severe medical problem, we go to the ER expecting to get treated. Delays, however, can prolong our treatment. Sometimes these delays are unavoidable and the result of circumstance, especially in a densely populated area such as New York City. That said, delays can also be caused by medical malpractice.

Emergency Room Triage Can Cause Delays

Emergency rooms don’t necessarily run on a first-come-first-served basis. They operate on a triage system that prioritizes patients based on their assigned risk level. Higher-risk patients are provided medical treatment before lower-risk patients, who must wait until all patients assigned a higher level than them are addressed.

This is one reason why there can be very long delays at the ER. If you are assigned a semi-urgent or non-urgent level, you might experience a longer wait than someone coming in with symptoms of a heart attack or a severe laceration – even if you were there hours before them.

An Inappropriate Triage Level Can Cause Injury or Death

The danger with the triage system comes when a patient is assigned a level that’s much lower than what they should have received. This can cause delayed treatment for a serious injury or medical condition that should be immediately addressed.

Remember that the cause of a delay must be unreasonable for an ER delay malpractice lawsuit to have a chance of succeeding. A delay can be unreasonable when medical personnel fail to competently assess a patient’s symptoms and interpret their need for medical attention. This can be caused by inexperience or general incompetence that deviates from the accepted standard of care.

A delay may not be unreasonable, however, if a patient was assigned a proper triage level but couldn’t be seen due to many more patients with higher levels. Hospitals may also not be liable if a competent medical professional would have assigned the same triage level with the given information.

You Can Pursue Damages for Medical Malpractice

If you believe an unreasonable delay at the ER caused you or a loved one to suffer an injury or adverse health condition, we at the Law Office of David Kates can help. Although emergency rooms use the triage system to evaluate patients and their need for medical attention, negligence in assessing a patient’s symptoms can cause an unreasonable delay.

Learn more about your legal options during an initial consultation. Schedule yours by contacting us today.