Most people think of
medical malpractice claims as being against doctors, for serious harms such as botching a
surgery or failing to diagnose a disease. But other medical professionals,
such as nurses, play a large role in any patient’s care. A nurse’s
competence can be essential to a patient’s treatment and recovery.
If the nurse fails to competently perform his or her duties to care for
a patient, and the failure results in the patient’s injury or death,
then the patient can file a medical malpractice suit.
Common Malpractice Situations
Nurses are often responsible for administering medication, monitoring a
patient’s condition, and for calling for assistance if something
goes wrong. Common situations in medical malpractice cases include:
- Errors in giving medication, including the failure to administer the correct
medication, administering an incorrect dosage of a medication, or failing
to check for side effects and allergic reactions;
- Injuries caused by misusing medical equipment;
- Failing to notify a supervising doctor when something goes wrong;
- Failing to monitor the patient’s condition; or
- Working while impaired, e.g. while tired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Who Is Liable?
A key issue in any nursing malpractice case is figuring out
who can be held liable. Hospitals and attending physicians may share liability with a nurse in
A hospital may be liable for a nurse’s malpractice if:
- The nurse was acting as the hospital’s employee;
- The malpractice occurred while the nurse was performing the duties of his
or her job; and
- No independent doctor was in control of the nurse’s actions.
The supervising doctor may share liability if the doctor:
- Was present and supervising the nurse at the time of the negligence; and
- Could have prevented the patient’s injuries.
Nursing malpractice, like other medical malpractice claims, requires expert
testimony to demonstrate that the appropriate care was not provided. This
means that a medical expert, such as a doctor or trained nurse, will have
to testify for both parties. The expert witness can tell the court whether
or not the nurse’s acts or omissions were negligent, and what the
proper course of conduct would have been for a competent nurse.
Sometimes, an expert will not be needed to demonstrate negligence, because the
negligence is so obvious. For example, negligence is apparent to the untrained eye if a nurse leaves
a sponge inside a patient during surgery, or if a nurse administers a
different medication from what the doctor prescribed.
The role of an expert witness also includes testifying whether the injury
or death occurred because of the negligence. To recover damages, the injured
patient must show that the negligence actually harmed him or her. In some
cases, this may be difficult to prove. The nurse may argue that the patient
would have suffered harm even if no negligence had occurred—that
the harm was a result of the disease, not of the negligence. An expert
witness will thus often be required to testify to the issue of causation.
Patients go to doctors to be cared for, but nursing and other types of
medical malpractice can sometimes cause severe harm. If you have been
injured by a medical professional’s negligence, pleasecontact us at the Law Office of Robert R. Castro for a free initial consultation.