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Ebola scare in Texas a reminder of the risk of ER medical errors

Readers have probably all heard of the current concerns about the spread of Ebola from West Africa to other countries, including the United States. The scare came from the fact that a Texas man had contracted the virus while travelling in West Africa. When he checked himself into a hospital emergency room, he reportedly notified a nurse of his symptoms—consistent with Ebola—and the fact that he had been travelling in West Africa, but she failed to inform other hospital staff, which led to the patient being released with antibiotics and exposing numerous others.

As some commentators have pointed out, it is surprising—on the one hand—that a thing such as this could happen, putting others at risk of contracting such a highly fatal virus. On the other hand, doctors overlook serious medical conditions all the time, which can and does lead to worsening of the condition and sometimes death for patients.

The problem is especially pronounced in emergency rooms, where physicians have a limited amount of time with patients and often have to make quick decisions about treatment. Some of this is understandable, of course, but it too often happens that physicians in emergency rooms fail to exercise reasonable judgment in evaluating patients.

It isn't clear yet whether medical malpractice will result from this Texas case. Unfortunately, while medical malpractice litigation can provide some relief for patients who suffer because of a physician failing to recognize and treat their condition, caps on damages can limit how much a patient recovers. The caps in Michigan are lower than those in Texas, but they can still present a barrier to adequate recovery in some cases. Hence the importance of working with an experienced attorney to maximize one’s damages award and to evaluate whether pursuing litigation is going to be worth the costs and effort.

Source:, “Ebola: The Latest Texas Medical Negligence Nightmare,” October 2, 2014. 

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