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Seriously injured or ill patients who receive treatment in an emergency room or other urgent care facility must be diagnosed quickly and capably to arrest a critical health problem. Misdiagnosis, surgical mistakes and other medical errors by first responders and ER doctors can waste precious moments and an opportunity to improve a patient’s condition.

Medical malpractice claims are an important option for families who have lost a loved one or people who suffered injuries due to urgent care negligence. However, a bill currently before the Ohio Assembly would provide immunity from med mal lawsuits to health care providers who perform certain types of emergency care.

Ohio Senate Bill 129, which has yet to be approved by the Judiciary Civil Justice committee, would grant qualified civil immunity to physicians, physician assistants, dentists or optometrists who provide emergency care or first-aid treatment to patients. The bill also applies to certified nurse-midwives, certified nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and registered nurses who provide emergency services.

The law would forbid awards of damages for emergency professional care that is provided in compliance with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act or care necessitated by a disaster. In this case, disaster would mean any imminent threat or occurrence of widespread, severe damage caused by natural phenomena or human acts.

SB 129 creates exceptions for medical professionals whose acts or omissions show a reckless disregard for the life and health of patients, as well as actions that are outside the caregiver’s scope of authority. As introduced, the law would also not apply to tort actions alleging wrongful death.

Defending The Interests Of Injured Patients And Protecting Ohio Health Care Quality

Ohio medical malpractice attorneys have testified against the bill in Columbus, arguing that the law would undermine medical care standards in Ohio. Citing data from the American College of Emergency Physicians Report Card on Access to Emergency Care, one medical negligence lawyer noted that all other states that have instituted emergency room immunity laws have received lower grades for access to emergency medical care than Ohio.

The complex nature of emergency medical treatment means that determinations of liability can extend beyond treating physicians and nurses to hospital administrators whose policies foster inadequate staffing, lax operating procedures or improper medical testing priorities. Because of the life-and-death nature of treatment provided at urgent care centers and emergency rooms, accountability for substandard care and medical errors remains an important part of public health policy.