Misdiagnosis in the Emergency Room: Causes and Consequences

Emergency rooms (ERs) are hectic, high-stakes environments where medical professionals must make quick decisions that can have life-or-death implications. While many of these decisions are correct and can save lives, the unfortunate reality is that misdiagnosis in the emergency room does happen. In this blog, we will examine the causes and consequences of such misdiagnoses, particularly focusing on the legal landscape in South Carolina.

Understanding Misdiagnosis in the ER

Misdiagnosis in the emergency room refers to the incorrect identification of a patient’s condition or illness. This can manifest in several ways, including:

  • Failing to diagnose a condition that is present
  • Diagnosing a condition that is not actually present
  • Delay in diagnosis, leading to worsened conditions

The Common Culprits: Causes of Misdiagnosis

  • Overcrowding: ERs are often crowded, leading to rushed evaluations that may miss critical details.
  • Limited Resources: Some emergency rooms may lack specialized diagnostic equipment, limiting the scope of investigations.
  • Human Error: Fatigue, cognitive biases, or lack of specialization among medical staff can contribute to diagnostic errors.
  • Communication Breakdown: Inadequate hand-offs between medical staff or miscommunication can result in incomplete or inaccurate information gathering.

The Ripple Effects: Consequences of Misdiagnosis

  • Health Impact: An incorrect or delayed diagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment or lack of treatment, causing preventable harm or even death.
  • Emotional Toll: The psychological impact of a misdiagnosis can be significant, affecting not just the patient but their loved ones as well.
  • Financial Strain: Additional medical costs for corrective treatments can place a financial burden on the patient and their family.

South Carolina Law: Where Does Misdiagnosis Stand?

In South Carolina, misdiagnosis in an emergency room could be considered medical malpractice if it meets specific criteria, which include:

  • Establishing Duty of Care: The first step is to show that there was a healthcare provider-patient relationship, confirming a duty of care.
  • Proving Breach of Duty: You must demonstrate that the healthcare provider failed to meet the ‘standard of care’—that is, what a competent healthcare provider would have done in similar circumstances.
  • Linking Causation: It must be proven that the misdiagnosis was the proximate cause of the harm suffered.
  • Demonstrating Damages: Lastly, the patient must show that they suffered some form of damages, be it physical, emotional, or financial.

Legal Specifics: The South Carolina Angle

In South Carolina, medical malpractice claims, including ER misdiagnosis, require an “affidavit of an expert” and may necessitate a “mediation conference” before going to court. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in South Carolina is generally three years from the date of discovery of the injury, but there are exceptions that can extend or limit this period.


Emergency room misdiagnosis is a complex issue with multifaceted causes and consequences. While the emergency room environment is challenging and often fraught with pressure, the standards of medical care must be upheld to protect patients. South Carolina law provides a framework for patients who have suffered due to misdiagnosis to seek redress, but the legal process is complicated and often requires expert guidance.

By understanding the causes and consequences of ER misdiagnosis, and knowing your legal rights within the context of South Carolina law, you can make informed decisions about your healthcare and legal avenues should you ever face such an unfortunate situation.