A 33 year old man in California with complaints of chest pain and left arm pain died from a heart attack (myocardial infarction) after three hours of waiting in an Emergency Room. Although medical care standards required that anyone with chest pain complaints be screened within 10 minutes, the patient never received the standard screening test of an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). The patient was walking out of the Emergency Room when he collased on the pavement just outside the hospital. He died from his heart attack.
Unfortunately, this situation is far too common. I have personally handled several cases where individuals died (or suffered brain injuries) in waiting areas or while sitting in an emergency room triage area without getting proper and timely care for their emergency symptoms, such as chest pain (or pressure), arm or jaw pain, sweating, lightheadedness, pallor, and/or increased or irregular heart rate. Such improper care can be grounds for not only a medical malpractice lawsuit, but also for a claim under the federal law of EMTALA (Emergency Medical treatment and Actice Labor Act). Under federal EMTALA law, a hospital and doctor must follow the standard screening practices of the hospital to attempt to identify an emergency medical condition for all patients presenting to the hospital. When such a proper and timely screening does not occur, EMTALA law may be violated. Patients can base claims for their injuries on this statute in addition to the more common state law medical malpractice grounds. Hospitals and doctors can be subjected to governmental investigations and fines in addition to damages owed families for injuries caused by not properly screening or stabilizing patients.
In the California case, the hospital had been previously cited for by the Department of Health several times concernign other deaths at the hospital. Such patterns of deaths at hospitals are frequently not identified until discovered through litigation. Many medical malpractice cases can have other related claims, such as EMTALA claims, that should be brought as part of the litigation. Not only can such additional theories of liability strengthen the case, but they can sometimes create a better venue (location for the trial), permit additional types of discovery during the case and put additional pressure on defendants. Also, there can be an added benefit to future patients at the hospital if it is investigated by the federal government, fined or a corrective action program is put into place.