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Is It Medical Malpractice When The Emergency Room Gives You Ambiguous Instructions?


If you are living with a serious, chronic illness, you often feel an instant connection to other people who have the same illness because of shared experiences that the most of the world doesn’t understand.  You know about the triggers that make your symptoms worse and the generic and brand names of the medications used to treat your illness, as well as their side effects.  In the beginning, though, it was all fear and confusion.  It was through interaction with doctors, nurses, and survivors of your illness that you become an expert in your new normal.  In the emergency room, however, doctors must interpret the patient’s medical history quickly in order to make time-sensitive decisions.  If they decide that it is safe to discharge the patient, they must give the patient instructions about what constitutes an emergency that would require the patient to go back to the hospital.  If the emergency room doctor’s instructions are sufficiently unclear that the patient misunderstands and does not come back to the hospital when symptoms worsen, it could be a breach of the standard of care.  If you got sicker after being discharged from the emergency room and suffered preventable complications, contact a South Carolina medical malpractice lawyer.

Kelly and Sean’s Story

On a Saturday morning in 2002, Kelly went to the emergency room with her husband Sean.  She reported severe pain in her abdomen and right flank, as well as mild nausea.  She believed that the cause of her symptoms was a kidney stone, because she had previously had a kidney stone, and the symptoms were similar.  The nurses took Kelly’s temperature at 8:06 a.m., right after she arrived, and she did not have a fever.  A CT scan confirmed that she did have a kidney stone, which was causing moderate to severe obstruction.  There was no blood or bacteria in her urine, which indicated that she did not have an infection.

The emergency room physician cleared Kelly to go home at 10:20 a.m. and to see her doctor on Monday.  He instructed her to come back if she experienced worsening pain, fever, or vomiting, as these could indicate an infection resulting from the kidney stone.  No one took her temperature before she left the hospital.  Over the weekend, Kelly experienced intermittent severe pain and intermittent fever.  Because the worsening symptoms came and went, Kelly and Sean did not go back to the hospital.  Sean went to work on Monday morning, planning to come home at 2:00 to take Kelly to the doctor.  When she didn’t answer his phone calls, he went home early and found her unresponsive.  He brought her back to the emergency room, and the hospital admitted her.  Kelly died that evening.  The cause of death was sepsis, an infection that has spread through the bloodstream to all parts of the body.

Sean filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital.  The dispute centered on whether the proximate cause of Kelly’s death was Sean’ failure to bring her back to the hospital or the doctor’s decision to discharge her without taking her temperature when her kidney stone was causing a moderate to severe instruction.  The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

Let Us Help You Today

A Columbia personal injury lawyer can help you if the treatment you received or did not receive in the emergency room made you sicker.  Contact The Stanley Law Group for a consultation.


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