Liability of Medical Professionals Who Ignore a Medical Emergency
When a medical emergency arises, those in need must place their full trust in the medical professionals who are attending to them, as, quite literally, their lives depend on it. Given the conventional wisdom that medical care in this country is generally considered to be the best on the planet, this trust is usually not misplaced, and medical professionals know how to act, not only to address the specific needs of the patient, but to also do so with the urgency the situation requires. Unfortunately, if this trust is misplaced, and an error occurs, retaining the services of an attorney experienced in medical malpractice matters will be crucial to obtaining reimbursement for any injuries suffered. Recently, a Hillsborough County mother of three – including a five-day-old – died from an apparent stroke after EMT workers failed to properly assess and respond to the medical emergency. The woman’s mother has initiated a legal action against the first responders, claiming that their inability to analyze the situation and take appropriate action cost precious time and, eventually, the life of the woman. A discussion of medical malpractice as applied to emergency situations outside a hospital setting, and unique factors affecting first responders, such as paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), will follow below.
Medical Malpractice in Emergency Situations
Medical malpractice in Florida is, essentially, a special form of negligence, in which a medical professional’s liability is based on whether he/she acted according to a standard of care which is reasonable for that particular circumstance. Thus, a surgeon would be held to a different standard of care than a pediatrician. Another circumstance with its own standard of care is emergency treatment. Due to the fact that an emergency can happen anywhere, where access to necessary equipment may not be available, the standard of care is likewise affected. Further, the law even contemplates that, in some cases, the person providing medical care may not be a trained medical professional. These Good Samaritan Laws protect emergency caregivers from culpability, assuming they acted reasonably. Thus, it can be said, generally, that the standard of care for acting in a medical emergency is that of an “ordinary reasonably prudent person.”
The Role, and Liability, of a First Responder
First responders, such as paramedics and EMTs, while different from and usually more highly skilled than a passerby who attempts to address an emergency situation, are not physicians. As such, like passersby, they are neither trained nor qualified to perform many medical procedures. Consequently, and additional to the emergency medical standard of care referenced above, they are not expected to meet the same standards as emergency room doctors, trauma doctors, or other medical professionals. However, the tasks that EMTs and paramedics are expected to perform are different from passersby, and typically include the following:
- Recognizing the existence of a medical emergency, and quickly assess a patient’s condition;
- Competently managing the patient’s care, including the prioritization and implementation of appropriate treatments;
- Monitoring the response to aid, and recording the vital signs of the patient;
- Recording and communicating all necessary information to the emergency room or other medical facility; and
- Transporting the patient to the appropriate facility in a timely manner.
Failure to perform any one of these tasks, not only competently, but also in a timely manner, may subject the paramedic or EMT to medical malpractice. As referenced in the article cited above, common failures include the failure to transport a patient, failure to communicate with emergency room medical professionals, and failure to monitor the patient’s vital signs. Additionally, an improper or delayed diagnosis, and the administration of inappropriate medications, are other common errors.
Seek Legal Advice
If you or a loved one suffered an injury because a medical professional, such as an EMT or a paramedic, did not appreciate the urgent nature of the situation, contact the attorneys at Pita Weber & Del Prado as soon as possible. We have experience in dealing with medical malpractice matters involving non-physician medical professionals, and will work with you to develop the best strategy to ensure you get the compensation you deserve. Contact our Miami office today for an initial consultation.