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What is Emergency Room Delay?

Hospital emergency departments play a vital role by providing emergency medical care at all hours for people facing dire medical threats. Emergency department duties include accepting critically imperiled patients, prioritizing time-sensitive patients, stabilizing patients, recognizing emergency symptoms, and a reasonable level of staffing. They should do so without discrimination based upon financial, insurance, race, or any other status. We rely on emergency rooms in order to respond to serious and life-threatening medical issues before it is too late.

Unfortunately, desperate patients are often left waiting too long as their health deteriorates. Easily treatable conditions may develop into life-changing or life-ending events. If an emergency room’s unacceptable and unreasonable delay fails to treat an imperiled patient before preventable serious complications or death occurs, there may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

The mere fact of a long wait does not establish medical malpractice. A twelve hour wait or missing an important meeting will not be enough on its own. An injury which would have occurred despite delayed treatment is also not enough. In order to be grounds for a lawsuit, the delay in treatment must have led to serious injury or death.

Emergency Department Wait Times

Americans needing and hoping for prompt emergency care are often met with hours of agonizing waiting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the mean wait time to see a provider is over 58 minutes. According to ABC News, it takes an average of four hours and seven minutes to see a doctor in the ER. These numbers continue to rise as more patients turn to a shrinking number of often-understaffed emergency departments.

Long ER times are not inevitable. Some hospitals have chosen to invest in increased ER capacity, more staff, and more efficient hospital management systems in order to shorten wait times. For example, Spectrum HealthHospital in Michigan instituted new systems, increased staff, and expanded their facility to reduce their average wait time from 8 hours to 23 minutes.  While this level of investment or improvement may not be attainable for all emergency rooms, the fact remains that our hospitals can and should do better.

Consequences of Long Wait Times

Delayed treatment can have dangerous and potentially deadly consequences. An easily treatable condition can turn into a death sentence. Lost time waiting for treatment can shatter or end a life.

For example, the chances of a surviving a heart attack with minimal damage are far greater if treatment begins within an hour. Some stroke treatments will only work within three hours and each lost minute causes brain damage. Appendicitis is a ticking time-bomb before a dangerous rupture. A mild case of peritonitis or sepsis may advance to life-ending septic shock.  Limbs may need to be amputated due to an easily treatable blood clot. Each lost minute is precious.

Although the list is practically endless, some examples of medical problems that require prompt treatment which may be imperiled through ER delays include:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Asthma attacks
  • Shock
  • Diabetic emergencies
  • Aneurisms
  • Appendicitis
  • Aggressive cancers
  • Internal bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Accident injuries

How Do Emergency Room Delays Happen?

Although overburdened emergency rooms are certainly one factor in delayed emergency room care, other factors can also lead to an unreasonable delay in treatment. Hospitals should be able to efficiently and accurately identify at-risk patients in order to provide timely treatment and prioritize patients requiring immediate care.

Some reasons that emergency rooms may fall short in providing timely treatment before it is too late include:

  • Failure to properly identify symptoms
  • Improper prioritizing of patients
  • Failure to ask the right questions during triage
  • Not taking patient complaints seriously
  • Failure to stabilize patients awaiting further treatment
  • Inefficient hospital procedures creating a bottleneck
  • Discriminatory practices
  • Understaffing
  • Giving a pain medication instead of providing actual treatment

Did You Suffer Due to an Emergency Room Delay?

Our firm has the background and experience to determine whether your physical injury occurred due to an emergency room delay. It is generally challenging to prove that any type of medical malpractice has occurred, including emergency room delay cases. Hospitals may argue that the delay was reasonable, you did not give them enough information to assess your risk, or your injury would have occurred with prompt care.

In order to face these challenges, we will develop a customized plan to investigate and pursue your case. This often includes getting your records reviewed promptly and having those records reviewed by experts. So, if you believe that you may have been a victim of an ER delay and our investigation supports this type of malpractice, our firm can help get you the compensation you need and deserve.


If you believe that a hospital or emergency room unreasonably delayed your treatment and you suffered a preventable injury because of it, call Gupta Law Group – a medical malpractice law firm. We help people and families throughout Illinois and Indiana. You can also email us to schedule a free consultation with an experienced lawyer. Cases are taken on a contingency fee basis.  That means you will not owe us anything unless your claim is successful and results in compensation.