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Nursing Malpractice

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What Is Nursing Malpractice?

Nursing malpractice, or nurse negligence, occurs when the negligence of a nurse causes injury to a medical patient. This usually occurs in a hospital setting, but it can also happen in a retirement home, convalescent home, or at a private residence- in short, wherever a nurse works. Like malpractice that involves doctors, nursing malpractice occurs when the nurse does not fulfill the duties in a way that a competent nurse would practice in the same wituation.

How Can Nursing Malpractice Be Proved?

In order to prove nursing malpractice, it’s usually necessary to prove that the nurse was negligent. Proving negligence involves showing that

  • Standard of Care: The nurse owed a duty to exercise a standard of care to use reasonable care and provide a safe environment to patient.
  • Breach of Duty: The nurse disregarded this duty and breached by failing to exercise the required standard of care that a reasonable and competent nurse would follow.
  • Causation: There was a casual connection between the nurses conduct and the plaintiff's injury. 
  • Damages: The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the nurses malpractice . the nurse disregarded or breached the standard of care that applies to nurses in a similar field. This breach must be the cause of the patient’s injuries, and the injuries must be calculable into a monetary figure. 

What Are Some Examples of Nursing Malpractice?

Some common examples of acts that might constitute nursing malpractice include:

  • Failure to take action or make a report when required to do so: A common example is where the nurse fails to notify a doctor when a patient has fallen to the ground
  • Injuring the Patient: This commonly occurs in connection with medical equipment, such as accidentally piercing the patient with a sharp tool, or accidentally dropping a heavy object on them
  • Improperly Administering Medicines: This can involve a range of negligent acts, such as administering the wrong medicine, giving a patient the wrong dose, inserting an IV at the wrong time, etc.

It’s also common for a nursing malpractice lawsuit to involve actions that don’t directly involve contact with the patient. For example, knocking over important medical equipment needed by the patient might be considered negligence. Another example is when a nurse abandons his or her shift to take a phone call in the middle of treatment, resulting in an injury to the patient.        

Can Verbal Abuse Be Considered Nursing Malpractice?

Verbal, non-physical acts by a nurse are much more difficult to prove in a nursing malpractice lawsuit. In some cases, verbal abuse of a patient by a nurse may result in a claim for infliction of emotional distress. This is becoming especially common in cases involving nursing home abuse. An example is where a nurse repeatedly speaks harshly to a patient, or is constantly yelling at them.    

However, in order to succeed on a claim for infliction of emotional distress, it usually needs to be shown that the verbal abuse resulted in some form of actual physical injury to the patient- for example, if a nurse yells at a patient and triggers a heart attack in the patient.  On the other hand, if a patient simply feels uncomfortable with the way a nurse is speaking to them, it will be much more difficult to prevail in a lawsuit, since malpractice requires that the patient’s damages or losses be calculable.

Who Can be Held Liable for Nursing Malpractice?

Liability for nursing malpractice depends on many factors. One of the main concerns is whether the nurse acted at their own discretion or whether they were simply following instructions from a superior (like a doctor or surgeon). The persons that can be held liable for the nurse's malpractice may include:

The Hospital

A hospital can be liable for the nurse malpractice if:

  • the nurse was acting for the benefit of the hospital
  • the nurse was an employee of hospital and being supervised by hospital
  • the nurse was doing a job instructed by hospital
  • No other independent doctor instructed the nurse

The Attending Doctor

An attending doctor that is supervising the nurse may also be liable for the nurse's malpractice if:

  • the doctor was present at the time of nurse malpractice
  • the doctor was supervising the nurse
  • the doctor had control of nurse's job and could have prevented the nurse's conduct

In cases where both the doctor and the nurse acted negligently together, the hospital itself can be held liable. This may often be the case in larger class action suits where a large number of patients were injured on account of hospital policies. Liability for nursing malpractice typically involves the analysis of vicarious liability laws, which can often be complex.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with my Nursing Malpractice Claim?

Nursing malpractice is a growing area of litigation, especially among the elderly. If you have experienced any legal issues involving nursing malpractice, you may wish to hire a personal injury for direct assistance. Your attorney will be able to help you file a claim in court, and can represent you during the hearings so that you obtain compensation for your losses.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 03-20-2015 04:34 PM PDT

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