Unfortunately, emergency room errors occur all the time. Whether a patient was forgotten, prescribed the wrong medication, or mistreated for an entirely different illness, early discharge mistakes happen frequently. However, the hecticness of an emergency room may also prompt personnel to discharge a patient before receiving proper care. Mistakes happen, but they can also cause serious damage to patients, or lose their life.
Health care providers have an obligation under Oklahoma law to treat patients seeking medical care and must provide ample medical care or provide services to assist that patient in obtaining medical care. Nonetheless, in some instances, an emergency room may prematurely discharge a patient without providing the same level of care they have or would have for other patients. Thus, the medical care facility operating the emergency room may have committed malpractice by not providing that care.
Circumstances Leading to an Early Discharge
Experienced and competent medical personnel usually operate under a litany of procedures to determine whether a patient has received the appropriate amount of care consummate to their illness. Personnel rarely make conscious decisions that intentionally harm patients. However, any deviation in procedures or proper codes of conduct can lead to adverse health outcomes causing patients harm.
Instances that may lead to a patient being discharged early can include failure to:
- Closely monitor a patient’s vital signs to ensure medical stability.
- Order proper testing for certain illnesses or conditions.
- Provide a referral to a specialist while the patient is still being treated.
- Inform all personnel of a patient’s current status.
- Schedule follow-up testing throughout a patient’s visit.
- Review the patient’s full medical history.
Consequences of Early Discharge
Once a person has been prematurely discharged from the hospital, it is difficult to fully understand the dire consequences of that decision until it is likely too late. Without a proper evaluation and timely discharge, patients could end up going back to the hospital with worsening conditions or a whole set of new symptoms arising out of their illness.
Depending on the illness, premature discharge can result in:
- Longer subsequent hospital stays.
- Costly rehabilitation and occupational therapy.
- Increase in dosage and duration of medication regimens.
- Formation of new illnesses caused by maltreatment of underlying conditions.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim
Once a patient believes they were prematurely discharged from the hospital and have suffered negative health outcomes because of a health care facility’s actions, the patient should understand the considerations of filing a medical malpractice claim in Oklahoma.
Statute of Limitations
Under Oklahoma law, a patient that has suffered an injury because they were prematurely discharged from a healthcare facility has two years to file a medical malpractice claim. Although this period seems relatively short to some, the statute of limitations commences when the patient discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury.
Statute of limitations can vary between cases because many medical malpractice injuries are not always immediately apparent. In many cases, symptoms do not begin to manifest until days, weeks, months, and sometimes years after the incident. For premature discharge cases, one may reasonably believe the statute of limitations begins to run the moment a patient leaves the health care facility. However, patients are not always in a position to know whether they were properly treated for their illness upon discharge.
Patients should talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as they believe they were injured from a premature discharge.
Establishing a Medical Malpractice Claim
Most medical malpractice claims fall under the set standards of typical negligence claims. Under most malpractice claims, the patient must show:
- Medical personnel tasked with caring for the patient adhered to a duty of care compared with other medical personnel in the state or region in which the injury occurred.
- Medical personnel breached that duty of care when caring for the patient’s health.
- The patient’s injuries were the actual and proximate cause of the medical personnel’s actions.
- The patient suffered actual injuries resulting in monetary damage.
Unlike typical negligence cases, patients that claim their injuries were a result of medical malpractice must demonstrate the merits of their claim by obtaining an “Affidavit of Merit.” The affidavit is drafted and executed by a medical professional attesting that:
- The professional is qualified to determine the medical merits of the case, and
- The professional believes the patient’s injury was caused by the negligence of a medical professional.
Medical Malpractice Damages
Many states, including Oklahoma, treat medical malpractice claims differently when assessing damages. Although medical malpractice claims are eligible for similar types of damages, many types have statutory caps preventing major windfall awards.
Types of Damage Awards
Negligence awards are often split into two forms of damages: economic and non-economic.
- Economic Damages: these forms of damages can include all medical expenses resulting from the injury, lost wages if the patient has to take time off of work to recover, and lost earning capacity if the patient can no longer perform certain functions resulting from the injury.
- Non-Economic Damages: these forms of damage are more subjective in nature based on the circumstances of the injury, and can include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and reduced quality of life
Under Oklahoma law, economic damages do not have statutory caps, which means a defendant found liable for an injury will have to pay what a fact finder believes the injury is worth. However, non-economic damages are capped at $350,000.
The damage cap for non-economic damages may only be exceeded if the injury resulted in wrongful death, or the plaintiff can show that the defendant’s actions were reckless, grossly negligent, malicious, or fraudulent.
Because many malpractice claims include prolonged medical injuries, traditional settlements paid out in a lump sum are not always ideal. Instead, many injured patients can seek a structured settlement paid out for a certain duration of time, including the patient’s life. This typically happens for premature discharge-related injuries impacting a child’s health and development, disabilities, chronic illnesses, or injuries requiring long-term care.