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Emergency care is often thought of as care for accident victims. It is as frequently required for emergent medical conditions such as heart attacks. Emergency care can be provided in emergency rooms, in physicians' offices, and at the scene of accidents or sudden illnesses.

The law assumes that a person in need of emergency care would consent to the care if able. This assumption makes consent for emergency care a low-priority issue. There are no cases known to us in which a physician was successfully sued for failure of informed consent in an emergency situation.

Contrary to medical-legal mythology, few physicians have been sued for rendering emergency care. Most of the litigation, and the legal risk, in emergency medicine arises from denying patients care. This should not be surprising. The juror who will not rule against a physician who volunteers help may decide against a physician for refusing to help when required by law. This belief that no one should be denied emergency care has recently been incorporated into the federal law. Essentially all emergency rooms are now required to provide emergency care without regard to the patient's ability to pay. Every physician must understand the provisions of this law because it carries a potential $50,000 fine, not payable by insurance, for physicians who violate its requirements.

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