On September 24, 2012, after more than one week of trial and over two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, a Georgia medical malpractice jury returned a verdict in the amount of $5 million for a woman who had both of her legs amputated below the knees as a result of what the jury found to be medical negligence. The verdict was against a physician assistant who failed to timely and appropriately diagnose the woman’s condition in a hospital emergency room, the physician who signed-off on the physician assistant’s care, and the company that provided the hospital’s emergency department physicians.
What Happened That Led To The Woman Losing Her Legs?
On Thanksgiving Day, 2008, the then 61-year-old woman went to her local emergency room complaining of extreme pain in both of her feet that were also cold to the touch. A physician assistant in the emergency room treated the woman on that day. The physician assistant diagnosed the woman as having cellulitis and discharged her to home, despite the woman and her family begging for the woman to be admitted into the hospital. Her emergency room discharge instructions directed the woman to place ice on one leg.
Shortly after midnight, the woman was found unresponsive and her organs were shutting down. She was rushed by her firmly to the hospital where she was correctly diagnosed with blockages in the arteries behind both knees. Had her blockages been diagnosed within six hours by one of two simple tests during her first emergency room visit, which tests would have taken ten minutes or thirty minutes, respectively, it was alleged that her legs could have been saved.
The case was filed on September 24, 2010 in the Gwinnett Courts and is captioned Wadsworth vs. Howland, et al., Case No. 10-C-13313-S4
This Georgia medical malpractice case should serve as a warning of the inherent limitations of hospital emergency rooms to those who seek and obtain medical care in ERs. Unlike other health care providers for whom we can obtain recommendations from primary care providers, friends, and the like before we select and agree to their services, we are not given that option in choosing who will treat us and provide us emergency, urgent, or acute care when we visit the emergency room. We do not know and cannot research the qualifications, experience, training, knowledge, reputation, or history of caregivers assigned by the emergency room to provide us medical services.
Emergency room medical staff usually do not know our entire medical histories and do not have access to our prior medical records (unless we have obtained care at the particular emergency room in the past, but then only to the extent that those records are accessible and complete) and must make medical decisions often based on our current symptoms, complaints, and the limited medical testing that may be obtained in or through the emergency department (unless we are admitted into the hospital after which more hospital services may be available to diagnose and treat our medical conditions).
Emergency rooms are also not intended to be the primary source for our continuing medical care — almost without exception, the typical emergency department discharge instructions given to patients when they leave the emergency room instruct the patient to contact their primary care providers to arrange for subsequent or continuing care for the condition(s) diagnosed or treated in the emergency room.
Despite such limitations that are designed into and are necessarily an integral aspect of typical emergency rooms, the emergency room medical staff are required to provide competent and necessary available services to timely and appropriate diagnose patient conditions, to treat emergency or urgent conditions, and to admit patients from the emergency room into the hospital when and where medically indicated. The failure to provide timely and compentent care was the basis for the Georgia woman’s medical malpractice claim.
If you or someone you know may be the victim of emergency room malpractice in Georgia or in another U.S. state, you should promptly arrange to consult with a Georgia medical malpractice lawyer or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may be willing to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in your medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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