Is a hospital at fault for not performing appropriate tests regarding an emergency injury?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Is a hospital at fault for not performing appropriate tests regarding an emergency injury?

I injured my back at home, went to the ED because of severe pain. They did no diagnostic testing and just gave pain medication. I did not have medical insurance at the time. After a few months I was then able to accept a job out of necessity as soon as my insurance was active I was able to see a doctor. The X-ray revealed a compression fracture and more testing MRI is needed.

Asked on November 3, 2017 under Malpractice Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

There are several issues: 
1) First, whether the ER not doing "diagnostic testing" was actually careless or negligent. It may have been; or it may not have been. That depends on what the average reasonable, well-trained, not-careless doctor would have done if presented with a patient with your symptoms. If most doctors would have given you pain medication and sent you home, they did nothing wrong; only if they were careless--that is, they did not do what a reasonable doctor would do--might they be liable. Doctors or an ER don't have to be perfect; they just have to do what is reasonably expected of them.
2) How were you hurt by their failure to diagnose you that first time? IF what they did was careless or negligent, then they could be liable for additional harm or medical costs you incurred due to the delay. The would not be liable for harm or costs you would have incurred no matter what, since those were not caused by them.
3) In considering the harm you may have suffered from the delay in diagnosing you, you may NOT consider any delays caused by you not having medical insurance. That is not the ER's fault or issue: they have no control over your insurance, your finances, whether you choose to go for medical care despite having no insurance or choose to suffer because you don't have it, etc. You can only consider the delay in diagnosis that would have occured between when you went to the ER and when the condition might have been found if you had gone in for follow-up when it became clear the problem was not resolving. Your financial issues or insurance issues are your issue, not the ER; you cannot hold them liable for it.
The above three concerns are what will determine if you have a case and what it might be worth.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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