Nurse Liability Laws

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 Who Can Be Held Liable for Nursing Injuries?

Pursuant to nurse liability law, a nurse may be held directly liable for injuries that they have caused to a patient in their care. Typically, this is litigated based on a claim of negligence, specifically as a claim for medical malpractice.

In some cases, both a nurse and the hospital in which they work may be liable to a patient injured by malpractice, depending on the facts of the case. The laws of negligence and medical malpractice are part of the field of personal injury law.

If the nurse breaches their duty of care to the patient and the breach causes injury, the nurse is likely to be liable for any injuries that result. Some examples of the duties that nurses have in the healthcare setting are as follows:

  • Participation in the first stages of diagnosis;
  • Interviewing the patient;
  • Preparing a patient for their medical treatments, including surgery;
  • Helping a patient with care following a surgery;
  • Providing counseling on various medical issues.

Nurses may have a multitude of other duties as well. Additionally, a nurse can often be held liable for injuries caused by their failure to properly perform these duties. Of course, this list is not exhaustive. A nurse may work in a variety of healthcare settings and have a wide variety of duties.

What Is the Standard of Care for Nurses?

Generally, medical standards establish the level of expertise that a healthcare professional should demonstrate in performing their work. For example, a medical standard may require that a healthcare professional must:

  • Have the appropriate license from the right government licensing agency for their role;
  • Follow certain protocols when faced with specific injuries;
  • Adhere to policies regarding sanitation when conducting their professional duties.

Medical standards also require medical professionals to provide patients with a certain level of care. Therefore, a healthcare professional may violate medical standards of care when managing a patient’s health. If so, the professional may have to answer in damages to the patient if the patient is injured as a direct result of the professional’s violation of the standard of care.

How Is Negligence In Nursing Liability Determined?

The standard of care that applies to legal liability in nursing is typically determined by evaluating the qualifications and performance of a healthcare professional practicing in the same area as the healthcare professional charged with malpractice. The standard may vary by state because nursing liability, like all liability for medical malpractice, is a matter of state law.

For example, the resources available to a nurse in a rural location will likely be less extensive than those in metropolitan hospitals. This may be considered when determining the appropriate standard of care for a nurse in a rural location.

Examples of common standards of care include:

  • The national standard of care: This requires nurses to use the degree of skill and care of a reasonably competent practitioner in the same field under the same or similar circumstances;
  • The locality rule: This requires a nurse to have the reasonable caliber of skill and knowledge that is generally possessed by nurses in the locality where they practice;
  • The respectable minority rule: This applies when the nurse does not follow the same course of action that other nurses would have followed, but that nurse can show that the course is accepted by a respectable minority of practitioners.

What Is Required to Prove Nurse Negligence?

Nurse liability laws are based, in general, on negligence principles. Under the negligence legal theory, nurses may only be held liable for injuries caused by their negligence in nursing if:

  • The nurse owes a duty of care to the patient;
  • The nurse breaches this duty of care;
  • The nurse’s breach is the direct cause of measurable damage to the patient.
  • The duty of care for a nurse is based on the standard of care that is appropriate for a nurse with similar education, training, and experience.
    • This is a different standard of care than those for other healthcare professionals, such as administrative staff, surgeons, or specialists.

In addition, there are also different levels within the nursing profession, each of which is associated with a different standard of care, depending upon the specific role of the nurse.

For example, some nurses specialize in working in operating rooms and assisting in surgical procedures. Others specialize in providing neonatal care to newborn babies.

Obviously, the standard of care for an operating room nurse is different from that for a nurse who specializes in neonatal care. The respective standards of care in each context would have to reflect the specialized knowledge that an operating room nurse or a neonatal care nurse must have to perform effectively.

Therefore, the standard of care for the nurse can be determined by examining the practice of other nurses in a similar field, as well as by consulting examinations, nursing textbooks, nursing experts, and other materials.

A lawsuit for nursing malpractice, like lawsuits for malpractice against other medical professionals, would require the help of expert witnesses. The experts would have to analyze the case in the beginning and give an opinion as to whether a nurse committed malpractice and whether this malpractice caused injury to the victim.

Expert witnesses would have to testify at trial about the standard of care to which the nurse has to be held. They would then have to offer an opinion as well about how the nurse failed to meet the standard of care.

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

In certain cases, a nurse is bound to provide care for a patient because a specific nurse-patient relationship has been formed between the nurse and the patient. This is often the case where people have private nurses performing home care in their personal residences or at nursing homes.

Neglect or abandonment by a nurse may occur if the nurse suddenly ceases providing the patient with care and fails to notify them or to notify a supervising nurse or doctor. Neglect and abandonment are serious violations of the standard of care, which may result in various legal consequences.

Factors that are involved in nurse abandonment cases may include:

  • Whether the nurse actually accepted the assignment with the patient and created a nurse-patient relationship;
  • Whether the nurse provided notice of their resignation or termination of duties in a
  • A reasonable amount of time;
  • Whether the nurse or medical staff attempted to continue the individual’s care by using a replacement worker.

Abandonment typically does not occur in the following situations:

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

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

It is essential to have the help of a personal injury lawyer for any nurse liability law issues you may have.

LegalMatch.com can connect you to an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can have your case analyzed by the relevant experts who are able to say if the nurse involved in your care did or did not meet the standard of care in your case. Expert witnesses are an essential element of a nursing malpractice case, and you want the help of a lawyer who knows how to coordinate work with these experts.

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