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Nurses and Malpractice: Guide to Legal Cases and Claims  

By: Anapol Weiss

Legal cases against nurses aren’t the most common medical malpractice suits, but nursing lawsuit cases are pursued in the courts when a nurse’s negligence leads to the injury of a patient. When you or a loved one seeks medical help, you have the right to expect competent and professional healthcare services that meet the standards set forth by law and common practice.

When that standard isn’t met, injuries can occur, costing the victim additional recovery time, pain, and medical expenses. If you’ve been hurt by a nurse’s negligence, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you fight for the compensation you need to cover these extra expenses and start your long journey to recovery.

Medical Malpractice

Legal cases against nurses fall under the broader umbrella category of medical malpractice cases. Malpractice occurs when a medical provider has a duty to act within a certain scope of practice in a manner which a reasonable practitioner of the same scope would, but who fails to meet this standard either through inaction or through actions that are not reasonable, leading to the injury of a patient. In layman’s terms, they had a job to do, knew or should have known how to do it, but didn’t and, as a result, a patient was injured.

Frequently, medical malpractice cases are filed against hospitals, medical systems, or doctors, as these entities are most often in a position of ultimate authority over the patient’s care. Nurses, however, play a vital role in health care and are increasingly in roles that place more responsibility for the patient’s medical needs on their shoulders. That means it is increasingly important they uphold the highest standards of care, and the results when they don’t can be all the more painful, leading to nurse lawsuit cases seeking to address those damages.

A Nurse’s Role In Patient Care

Nurses have always played a vital role in the care of patients, but their increased responsibilities come with an increase in potential liability. Legal cases against nurses focus on personal actions taken by nurses in their professional duties that don’t meet the minimum standard of care as outlined by their physician, hospital, state medical boards, governmental entities, or professional organizations. These standards are meant to inform the decisions of nurses placed in the position of being the medical professional that bridges the gap between an attending physician and the patient.

Monitoring Patient Status

One of the primary responsibilities for nurses of all licensure levels is the monitoring of patients’ statuses. Depending on the protocols the patient is being monitored under, this can be no more than a periodic recording of vital signs to a more thorough regular examination including diagnostic apparatuses and physical examination techniques.

Dispensing Medication

In many cases, nurses dispense and assist patients with medications. Working under their assigned protocols, they may be able to determine on their own professional judgment when some medications are allowed that go outside expressly prescribed treatments from the doctors, such as providing an anti-nausea medication on an as-needed basis. If these medications are not properly dispensed or documented, it can lead to legal cases against the nurses who placed the patient in jeopardy due to medication errors.

Assuring Immediate Health And Wellness Needs Are Met

Because they’re in direct contact with the patient, they’re also responsible for their immediate personal care needs, either personally or by delegation to a lower licensure level member of the nursing staff. This can include hygiene and comfort maintenance, such as bathing or changing of bedpans, as well as delivery of meals and ensuring patients have clean sheets.

Reporting To The Doctor

One of the most important tasks facing a nurse is understanding when to alert a doctor to a new development in the patient’s condition. As the eyes and ears for the attending physician who often only sees the patient once or twice a day, the nurse must exercise good judgment in evaluating when information is important enough that the doctor needs to be immediately notified. This requires an understanding of when there is a decision they can make themselves and when it is of a seriousness that requires a physician’s more extensive medical knowledge to diagnose.

Proving Medical Negligence

Successful lawsuits against nurses meet certain criteria. Documenting the evidence that confirms these factors presents the court with a full picture of the events and how they meet the definition of medical malpractice.

You Must Have Been Injured

Without an injury, there is no case present. While medical mistakes that lead to “near misses” are concerning, if no harm is done it may not be a legal matter you can file a claim for. The situation should, however, be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities so that the same actions do not cause an injury in the future.

The Injury Must Be A Direct Result Of The Nurse’s Actions

While the likelihood of there being a pre-existing condition or illness is high since the patient was seeking medical care, the actions of the nurse must have directly contributed to the severe worsening of that condition or an emergent new condition. While there may be other circumstances at play, the course of action adopted by the nurse has to be a prime factor.

The Actions Or Inaction Of The Nurse Did Not Meet A Reasonable Standard Of Care

Unfortunately, patients do not always respond to even the best healthcare measures. In order for there to be negligence, you must establish that a nurse of similar license level given similar responsibilities would have taken a different course of action than the one that led to the patient being harmed. This can include a different set of actions, different decisions, and even care based on knowledge the nurse should have known but didn’t.

When You’re Injured By Malpractice

Lawsuits against nurses can be complex. There are several layers of directives and protocols governing their standards. In addition, their actions may also overlap with those taken by a physician, hospital, or another care provider. If you’ve been hurt by medical negligence, your first step should be to contact a personal injury attorney who can help you file a claim and protect your rights to compensation.

Contact Anapol Weiss to set up a free consultation with a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer who’s ready to help you. They’ll talk to you about your situation, options moving forward, and negotiate on your behalf with practitioners and insurance companies. Get the legal representation you need to start rebuilding your life today.