Who is responsible for paying for unnecessary medical expenses?

UPDATED: Oct 4, 2013

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Who is responsible for paying for unnecessary medical expenses?

Urgent care doctor came running out to the parking lot to tell us we needed to take our son to the emergency room because of internal bleeding. He had a leg injury from HS football game. He originally told us to go home and ice it and call a specialist in the morning. He gave us pain meds and a brace and told us that there wasn’t a break. The ER doctor said he was an idiot for wasting our time and money, that it was a torn ACL and possibly more, but a specialist would need to follow up and order an MRI. The specialist echoed that response. Now we have received a bill for ER visit. Can the urgent care doctor be held responsible for this cost?

Asked on October 4, 2013 under Malpractice Law, South Carolina


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

He would only be liable if his recommendation to take your son to the emergency room was one that no reasonable doctor in his situation--that is, with what he saw or could determine, and was told by you and your son during the visit--would make. That is unlikely to be the case; if there is any credible risk of internal bleeding, going to the ER is prudent. Furthermore, if you sought reimbursement and the doctor refused to pay, you'd have to sue him for the money--and the cost of a malpractice lawsuit would likely exceed what you would recover. Everyone, especially everyone with children, goes for some doctor visits or tests, etc. that in hindsight turn out to be unnecessary; but the issue isn't hindsight, but what appeared to be the case and the risk at the time.

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