When is Poor Nursing Care Really Malpractice?
“Doctors cure, but nurses care,” goes an old saying. The reality is that while doctors write the orders, nurses carry out much of the treatment, monitoring, and record-keeping in hospitals and nursing homes. Most nurses take their work very seriously and strive to give their patients the best possible care. Sometimes, however, a nurse does not fulfill his or her duties as a reasonably competent nurse would under the same circumstances. When that happens, the nurse has committed malpractice.
Most people think of doctors when they hear the term “malpractice,” but increasingly, nurses are the subjects of malpractice lawsuits. How do you know if your nurse committed malpractice? And if he or she did, what can you do about it?
Understanding Nursing Malpractice
A nurse may do things that he or she shouldn't (like scream at a patient), or fail to do things that he or she should (like check on a patient frequently), but those things alone don't rise to the level of malpractice. Nursing malpractice, like other types of medical malpractice, requires four things:
- Duty: this one's easy—the nurse-patient relationship creates a duty to act reasonably.
- Breach of duty: failing to act as a reasonable nurse would in the situation.
- Damages: the patient is somehow harmed.
- Causation: there is a direct causal link between the nurse's breach of duty and the harm the patient suffers.
To use the example above, if a frustrated nurse screams at a patient, and the patient is upset and offended, but not hurt, the nurse has not committed malpractice. To be sure, nurses should never scream at patients, and this one should be reported to a superior, disciplined, and perhaps fired. But the patient does not have a legal cause of action to recover monetary damages. If, on the other hand, the nurse screams at the patient and the frightened patient suffers a heart attack as a result, the patient may be able to sue for malpractice.
Nursing malpractice may take place in many ways, too numerous to list here. However, some more common examples of nursing malpractice include:
- Administering the wrong medication, or the wrong dosage.
- Injuring a patient with a piece of equipment, like leaving a sponge inside a patient after surgery.
- Failing to monitor a patient as required, and as a result failing to notice a condition, like low oxygen saturation levels, for which action should be taken.
- Failing to act when required, such as failing to report a patient's fall.
- Acting against doctor's orders.
- Physical or sexual abuse of a patient.
- Improper administration or dosage of IV medications.
What to Do if You Suspect Nursing Negligence or Malpractice
In some cases, like physical abuse of a patient, nursing malpractice is obvious. Other times, it's less clear that the harm a patient suffered was caused by a nurse's action or inaction. Like other cases involving negligence or malpractice, nursing malpractice cases must be filed within a limited amount of time after the suspected malpractice occurred.
Therefore, you shouldn't wait any longer than necessary before consulting with an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney. Because of the expense and complexity of these cases, a good attorney won't encourage you to file a lawsuit that is frivolous or unlikely to succeed. Instead, he or she will review the facts of your case with you and explain how the law applies, and advise you how to proceed (or not) based on experience. Whether or not you have a case, you'll feel confident that you explored and understood your options.
If you do have a malpractice case against a nurse, it's possible that a doctor or the hospital may also be liable for negligence. It can be hard to think about suing the medical professionals who were supposed to care for you, but if they truly did commit malpractice, you deserve compensation and other patients need them to be held accountable. If you'd like to learn more about nursing negligence, we invite you to contact Huegli Fraser PC for a free, confidential initial consultation. We look forward to answering your questions.
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.