There’s a saying that goes: “Doctors cure; nurses care.” The saying stems from the fact that nurses, especially in the hospital setting, spend more time with patients, tending to their needs. Doctors perform procedures, give orders, and usually check on their hospitalized patients once a day. Nurses are ever-present in the hospital unit, monitoring patients’ conditions, administering medicine, and ready to respond at the touch of a call button.
There’s no doubt that most nurses are hard-working, diligent, and caring. There’s a reason that nurses are called “angels of mercy.” But nurses are not actual angels; they are human beings, and human beings make mistakes. Some of those mistakes can constitute medical malpractice.
When we think of medical malpractice, we tend to think of errors committed by doctors. But nursing negligence is a subset of medical malpractice. Nursing malpractice occurs any time a nurse acts in a way that a reasonable nurse in a similar situation would not have acted, and a patient is harmed.
Nursing malpractice can take many forms. Nurses often act as the doctors’ “eyes and ears” on the medical floor; failure to properly monitor and report on a patient’s condition can constitute nursing malpractice. So can improper use of medical equipment in a way that physically injures a patient or does not accurately assess the patient’s status. Failing to take fall precautions to preserve a patient’s safety is another example of negligence. Nursing errors can even occur when the patient is about to leave the hospital; if the nurse fails to properly communicate discharge instructions, patients may suffer injury. But the most common type of nursing malpractice is medication errors.
Not all medication errors are made by nurses. But since nurses are typically the professionals who carry out doctors’ orders to medicate patients, they are often in a position to make a mistake regarding the type or dosage of medication administered, or fail to administer the medication at all. The American Journal of Nursing estimates that medication errors occur in five out of every 100 administrations of medication, though only one out of 100 medication errors results in injury.
Many of those injuries are serious or life-threatening. You may remember the case of actor Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins, who were accidentally administered a dose of blood thinner that was 1,000 times as great as what they should have received. The twins ultimately recovered, but the case cast a spotlight on nursing errors.
While it does happen, it is extremely rare that a nurse intentionally harms a patient. Much more common is the case of a nurse who is dedicated and caring, but exhausted and overworked and simply makes an error in their haste to fulfill their duties. We all know that we are much more likely to make a mistake at work when we have a lot to do and are under time pressure to do it well. Unfortunately, that is increasingly the case for nurses in the United States.
As more and more hospitals are for-profit entities, the bottom line often competes with quality of patient care as a priority. Fewer nurses are being asked to do more. Overwork is not an excuse for substandard patient care, of course, but it is often a contributing factor.
Employers are often responsible for negligence committed by employees in the scope of their employees. For instance, if a bus driver negligently causes a serious accident while driving the bus, the busing company may be held liable. By the same token, when a nurse makes a harmful mistake in the course of carrying out their duties, the nurse’s employer may have financial responsibility for the damages caused under the legal theory of “respondeat superior.”
Most nurses are employees of hospitals, so in cases of nursing negligence, hospitals are frequently sued alongside the nurse. Occasionally a physician will be sued instead of the hospital, if the doctor (who was not a hospital employee) was present when the nurse made the error and had the opportunity to stop it.
Like many people, you may be reluctant to file a claim if you were injured by a nurse’s mistake. You may like your nurse and not want to cause trouble for them. At the same time, you should recognize that you may face ongoing problems and a protracted recovery as a result of nursing negligence. You should not have to bear the financial and personal burden of someone else’s error.
Professionals and hospitals maintain malpractice insurance because they understand that mistakes could happen and they could be held liable. If you fail to make a claim, you could later regret it. It is always best to explore your options before the statute of limitations makes that impossible.
The first step is just to get more information about what those options are. If you have been hurt by a nursing mistake, we invite you to contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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