Generally, medical standards are used to establish the minimum level of expertise which is required to perform a healthcare professional’s job safely and efficiently. For example, a medical standard may instruct a healthcare professional to:

  • Obtain a medical license;
  • Follow certain protocols when faced with specific injuries; and
  • Adhere to strict policies when conducting their professional duties.

Medical standards also require medical professionals to provide patients with a certain level of care. Therefore, if a violation of medical standards of care occurs when managing a patient’s health, the patient may be able to recover damages from that medical professional if the violation resulted in injuries to the patient.

What is the Standard of Care for Medical Providers?

The standard of care for healthcare practitioners can be defined, in general, as the level of care which a reasonably competent and skilled medical professional with a similar background and who practices in the same medical community would provide to a patient under similar circumstances.

This definition is what is basically required of all healthcare providers across the nation. This definition, however, may vary by jurisdiction and may change depending upon the medical profession as well as local rules.

  • For example, there may be a local rule which states that healthcare professionals are required to possess a reasonable level of skill and knowledge akin to other physicians or surgeons in the jurisdiction who are practicing medicine. According to the United States Department of the Interior, there are medical standard of care guidelines which healthcare professionals must follow, including:
  • Maintaining uniformity and consistency when performing medical evaluations on all patients;
  • Conforming with the rules which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides;
  • Promising not to aggravate, accelerate, and/or worsen any existing or preexisting medical conditions a patient may have; and
  • Obtaining the necessary qualifications required for the individual to become a licensed medical professional.

How Can a Violation of Medical Standard Be Proved?

In order to prove a violation of a medical standard, a plaintiff will likely need to provide testimony from a qualified expert witness, typically a medical professional within the same community. The expert will be required to testify regarding how the standard of care deviated from conduct which is considered standard as well as how that healthcare professional’s deviation caused the plaintiff to suffer injuries.

In situations where a specialist violated medical standards, a plaintiff will be required to obtain expert medical testimony from a healthcare professional who practices within the same field of medicine. For example, if the plaintiff was injured by a surgery, they will be required to have an expert witness who is a surgeon and will testify that the original surgeon provided the patient with substandard treatment.

Who Can be Held Liable for Nursing Injuries?

Pursuant to nurse liability laws, a nurse may, in some cases, be held directly liable for injuries which they have caused to a patient. This is typically litigated based on a claim of negligence laws in addition to different malpractice theories.

In certain cases, both the nurse and the hospital may be held liable, depending upon the facts of the case. For example, if a nurse administered an individual’s medication without being aware that it was the incorrect prescription, the question arises whether the nurse should be held liable.

If the nurse breached their duty of care to the patient, they will likely be held liable for any injuries which resulted. A nurse has many basic duties, including:

  • Participation in initial diagnosis stages;
  • Interviewing the patient;
  • Preparing a patient for their medical treatments or surgery;
  • Helping a patient with care following a surgery;
  • Providing counseling on various medical issues; and
  • Numerous other duties.

Therefore, a nurse may be held liable for injuries which are caused by a failure to properly perform their duties or tasks.

How is the Standard of Care Determined?

The standard of care is typically determined by evaluating the abilities and performance of the healthcare professional practicing in the same area as the healthcare professional accused of malpractice. The standard may vary by state.

For example, the resources of a rural doctor will likely be less extensive than those in metropolitan hospitals and this may be considered when determining the appropriate standard of care.

Examples of common standards of care include:

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

What is the Standard of Care for a Nurse?

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

  • The nurse owed a duty of care to the patient;
  • The nurse breached this duty of care; and
  • The nurse’s breach resulted in measurable damage to the patient.

The duty of care for a nurse is based on the standard of care which 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 profession of nursing, each of which is associated with different standards of care, depending upon the task of the nurse. 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, medical textbooks, and other materials.

Because of this, it may require the assistance of an attorney or an expert witness during a trial.

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 with that individual. This is often the case where individuals 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 failing to notify them or to notify a supervising nurse or doctor. Neglect and abandonment are serious violations which may result in various legal consequences.

Factors which 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
  • reasonable amount of time; and
  • 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 refused to accept a patient assignment after they have given proper, reasonable notice that they were not properly trained or competent for the assignment; or
  • 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?

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

The standard of care for nurses may vary by region, state, as well as the level of training of the nurse. Your lawyer can provide you with legal guidance and advice and assist you with obtaining relief in court, as well as represent you any time you have to appear.