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New York Court Explains the Emergency Doctrine in Medical Malpractice Cases

Doctors are obligated to provide care that comports with the standard practices of an average doctor in the same field in his or her community. In cases where medical malpractice is alleged, the plaintiff is required to show a deviation from the standard of care and harm resulting from the deviation. In turn, doctors may be able to assert a defense to explain their deviation, such as the emergency doctrine, which allows them to avoid liability.

The emergency doctrine only applies in certain circumstances, however, as was recently explained in an opinion issued by the Supreme Court of New York. If you suffered harm due to inappropriate care, you should meet with a skilled Rochester medical malpractice attorney to develop a plan to seek damages from the responsible parties.

Facts Regarding the Patient’s Treatment

Reportedly, the patient underwent surgery on her cervical spine. Because of swelling in her neck, the patient underwent a tracheotomy and tracheostomy five days after the surgery, in which a hole was cut into her windpipe and a tube was placed into her windpipe so that she could breathe. Following the surgery, she was walking around and talking. A few days after the tracheostomy was placed, a nurse met resistance placing an inner tube into the tracheostomy tube and the patient became short of breath. The nurse attempted to suction the tube but the patient’s oxygen levels dropped and she lost consciousness. The nurse then paged the defendant, an anesthesiologist.

It is alleged the defendant suspected the patient had a mucus plug in the tracheostomy tube but was reluctant to remove the tube due to fear the tracheotomy hole would close. The defendant consulted an ear, nose, and throat specialist who recommended he remove and replace the tube and a physician assistant was prepared to replace the tube. The defendant chose to take conservative measures, however. The patient’s condition worsened, and the defendant ultimately replaced the tube. The patient died later that evening. The patient’s estate subsequently sued the defendant for medical malpractice.

The Emergency Doctrine

During the trial, the court instructed the jury to consider the emergency doctrine. The jury found in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the verdict, which was denied. The plaintiff then appealed. On appeal, the court held that the in the medical malpractice context, the emergency doctrine is limited to situations where a doctor is faced with a sudden and unforeseen condition and must provide care in a less than optimal situation. The court explained, however, that the emergency doctrine does not apply where the doctor is trained and prepared for the specific emergency he or she faces. In the subject case, the court found that the defendant had ample experience creating airways for patients, and he was qualified and prepared to replace the patient’s tube. As such, the court found that the defendant was not faced with an unforeseen or sudden condition for which he was not prepared and the emergency doctrine should not apply. Thus, the court reversed the verdict and remanded for a new trial.

Consult a Knowledgeable Rochester Medical Malpractice Lawyer to Assess Your Options

Doctors that breach the duty to provide appropriate care under the given circumstances should be held responsible for any harm they cause. If you were harmed by inadequate medical care, it is in your best interest to consult a knowledgeable Rochester medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to assess your options. The skilled Rochester medical malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers will vigorously advocate on your behalf to help you in your pursuit of compensation. Contact us at 315-479-9000 or via our online form to set up a free and confidential meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Man Dies After Surgeon Leaves Needle Inside Patient’s Body,  Rochester Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Blog, September 11, 2018

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