Ebola case highlights strict burden of proof in TX ER malpractice suits

Emergency room malpractice victims must show caretakers engaged in willful, wanton negligence, which makes claims for preventable mistakes difficult.

When health care professionals fail to provide adequate care in emergency situations, the consequences can be devastating. People in Georgetown who suffer harm due to a doctor's actions or failure to act may seek redress through a medical negligence lawsuit. Unfortunately, the recent delayed diagnosis of an Ebola patient draws attention to the fact that Texas patients must meet strict standards when making malpractice claims for emergency room treatment.

A missed diagnosis

On Sept. 25, the patient made a late-night visit to the emergency room of a Dallas hospital, according to ABC News. The patient reported that he had recently been to West Africa, and this information was available to the entire care team. However, none of the treating workers put together his symptoms and statements to make the appropriate diagnosis. Instead, the man was released with antibiotics.

The patient returned to the hospital on Sept. 28 with more severe symptoms, and he was finally diagnosed with Ebola. The health risks that this delayed diagnosis created for the man, his immediate family members and even other healthcare workers are not trivial.

Any of these people could reasonably feel entitled to take legal action and seek compensation for the initial failure to diagnose. However, these claims would be unlikely to succeed given state laws governing claims for malpractice during emergency room care.

'Willful and wanton negligence'

In many states, malpractice victims can file claims if the care they received fell below reasonable medical standards. This means mistakes and oversights can provide grounds for claims, as long as another professional would not have reasonably made the same error in the same situation.

Texas, however, establishes a strict burden of proof in emergency room cases: the health care worker or staff must have shown "wanton and willful" negligence. Under this requirement, victims making claims may face an uphill battle. Still, this doesn't mean victims are virtually precluded from seeking benefits. There are many cases in which health care professionals engage in blatantly reckless or negligent activities.

One ongoing Texas malpractice lawsuit, which involves a fatal injury that occurred during a low-risk surgical procedure, highlights a shocking case of negligence of a medical care provider. Pacific Standard magazine reports the following facts about the circumstances of the patient's death:

  • Throughout the surgical procedure, the anesthesiologist was engaging in other activities. He admitted to generally texting, reading and spending time online during procedures.
  • Rather than continuously monitoring the patient, the anesthesiologist checked the patient's vital signs "at least every five minutes." Since anoxic brain damage can result after just four minutes of oxygen deprivation, this level of monitoring was probably insufficient.
  • According to testimony from the surgeon, the anesthesiologist took 15 to 20 minutes to notice that the patient's blood-oxygen levels had fallen unacceptably low.

The overall role of the anesthesiologist's actions in the patient's death may be debatable, but his willful engagement in reckless behavior is clear.

Still, in many cases, after emergency room mistakes occur, it can be difficult to determine whether those errors represented negligence. Anyone who has been hurt as a result of emergency care medical errors should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss the circumstances and determine whether a malpractice lawsuit may be a reasonable way to address the situation.

Keywords: medical, malpractice, personal injury