With the increasing incidence of mass shooting events, it is important to consider appropriate ED preparedness, says William M. McDonnell, MD, JD, clinical service chief of pediatric emergency medicine and medical director of the ED at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, NE.
“Failure to prepare for such events might not only risk patient safety, but could also result in liability risks to the hospital and EPs,” he warns.
If a mass shooting occurs, with multiple victims subsequently brought to an ED, a plaintiff attorney could allege that the ED was not reasonably prepared for this scenario.
“Disaster-preparedness cases brought against hospitals in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina suggest how possible future plaintiffs in mass shootings might attempt to sue hospitals and physicians,” McDonnell says.
In one such case, plaintiffs sued for negligence and wrongful death of family members who died after Katrina. They alleged that the hospital failed to properly anticipate the natural disaster and have in place appropriate preparations for patient evacuation and transfer.1
EDs are expected to be “reasonably” prepared for foreseeable disasters, McDonnell says, such as tornadoes in Kansas or earthquakes in California.
“As mass shootings become more and more common, it also becomes more foreseeable that any ED might encounter such a situation,” he says.
Although not every ED has the ability to provide definitive care for multiple gunshot victims, McDonnell says, every ED can develop a plan for how it will address such a situation if it occurs.
“It is becoming difficult for hospital EDs to claim that they could not have foreseen a mass shooting in their community,” McDonnell adds.
Hospitals and EPs, therefore, should incorporate a plan for responding to a surge of shooting victims into their disaster policies.
“Having such a plan will be invaluable if tragedy occurs, and will be a powerful defense against subsequent negligence claims,” McDonnell says.
LaCoste v. Pendleton Methodist Hospital, 966 So.2d 519 (2007).
William M. McDonnell, MD, JD, Clinical Service Chief, Pediatric Emergency Medicine/Medical Director, Emergency Department, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Omaha, NE. Phone: (402) 955-5140. Email: [email protected]