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Nurse Liability Laws

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Who Can Be Held Liable for Nursing Injuries?

Under nurse liability laws, nurses can sometimes be directly liable for injuries they have caused to a patient.  This is usually litigated on the basis of negligence laws in addition to different malpractice theories.  In some cases, both the hospital and the nurse can be held liable, depending on the facts of the situation.

For example, if the nurse administered medication knowing that it was the wrong prescription, the question arises as to whether the nurse should be held liable.  If the nurse has breached their duty of care to a patient, they may likely be held liable for any resulting injuries.

The basic duties of a nurse include many different tasks, including: participation in initial diagnosis stages; interviewing the patient; preparing a patient for medical treatment or surgery; helping a patient with care after surgery; providing counseling on different medical issues; and many other duties.  Thus, a nurse can often be held liable for injuries that are caused by a failure to properly perform their tasks or duties. 

What Standards of Care are Nurses Held To?

Nurse liability laws are generally based on negligence principles.  Under a negligence theory, a nurse can only be held liable for injuries if: 

  • They owed a duty of care to the patient
  • They breached this duty of care
  • The breach resulted in measurable damage to the patient

A nurse’s “duty of care” involves the standard of care that is appropriate for a nurse with similar training, education, and experience.  This is a much different standard of care for other medical personnel, such as administrative staff, surgeons, or specialists. 

Also, there are different levels within the nursing profession, each of which are associated with different standards of care depending on the nurse’s task.  Thus, the nurse’s standard of care may be determined by examining the practices of other nurses in a similar field, as well by consulting medical textbooks, examinations, and other materials.  This may require the help of a lawyer or an expert witness during trial.

What Does “Abandonment” Mean in a Nursing Malpractice Context?

In some cases, nurses are bound to provide care for a patient because they have formed a specific nurse-patient relation with the person.  This is often the case where a person has a private nurse performing home care in their personal residence or at a nursing home.

Abandonment or neglect by a nurse may occur if the nurse suddenly stops providing the patient with care, without notifying them or a supervising doctor or nurse.  This is a serious violation and may result in various legal consequences. 

Some factors involved in nurse abandonment cases include:

  • Whether the nurse actually accepted the assignment with the patient, thus creating a patient/nurse relationship;
  • Whether the nurse provided notice of their resignation or termination of duties in a reasonable amount of time
  • Whether the nurse or medical staff attempted to continue the nursing care through a replacement worker

Abandonment usually does NOT result in the following situations:

  • The nurse refused to accept a patient assignment after they have given proper, reasonable notice that they were not properly trained or competent for the assignment;
  • The nurse has refused to take additional hours beyond their normal schedule, or to work a double shift, if they have given proper notification regarding their work schedule

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Nurse Liability Laws?

Nurse liability can be one of the more complex areas of personal injury law.  Standards for nurses can vary by state, region, and also according to the level of training of the nurse.  You may wish to contact lawyer if you believe that you have a claim involving nurse liability.  Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and guidance, in order to assist you in obtaining the appropriate relief in a court of law. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 05-30-2014 09:37 AM PDT

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