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Can A Claim For Medical Malpractice Be Brought Against A Nurse?

Medical malpractice happens when a doctor or another medical professional’s actions or inactions fall below the appropriate standard of care causing injury, or death of a patient. There is a broad range of actions that may lead to a malpractice lawsuit. A majority of plaintiffs think of malpractice suits as arising when their doctor’s actions are the cause of injuries sustained. However, it is possible for a nurse to fall below the standard of their profession, resulting in injury or even death. Parties trying to recover damages that have occurred directly from a nurse’s actions will proceed with a malpractice claim against the responsible nurse.

It might seem counterintuitive that a nurse would be the focus of a medical malpractice suit.  However, in today’s day and age nurses provide the majority of contact with patients.  A vast majority of nurses work for doctors or hospitals, so it would seem logical to peruse an action against one of those entities. There is more complexity to malpractice than that, especially if a nurse is directly at fault for the injuries of a patient. Nurses, just like doctors, are licensed health care providers who have a standard of care that is owed to their patients. This standard is closely related to, but distinct from the medical standard to which doctors are held.  Nurses are often responsible for the direct care of a patient and injuries sustained while patients are in their direct care can lead to their liability.   Further, many times nurses work directly for the facility while doctors may be independent contactors. 

A nurse being in direct charge of a patient can cause nurse malpractice to crop up in a variety of fashions. A considerable part of a nurse’s job is to provide patients with appropriate medications. When a nurse administers the incorrect medication or fails entirely to provide medication that nurse may be open a malpractice lawsuit. Nurses are also responsible for handling medical equipment. There are scenarios where medical equipment can be mishandled, resulting in patient injury. Nurses may drop a heavy piece of equipment on a patient, or fail to remove equipment from a patient properly after surgery. A nurse who is not professionally handling medical equipment has fallen below the standard of care. Nurses who provide improper medications or cause injuries due to negligent handling of equipment are relatively overt examples of malpractice. A more subtle form of malpractice arises when a nurse fails to take necessary actions to address an emergency they should have been aware of. Hospitals all have protocols in place for handling emergencies, and when nurses fail to comply patient injuries may ensue because of their inactions.

Patients who choose to pursue a medical malpractice claim against a nurse will have the burden of proof. The plaintiff must show that there was a relationship that existed with some expectation of care from the nurse. A patient must have agreed to receive medical care from the nurse. For example, a plaintiff cannot sue a nurse they overheard giving medical advice at a dinner party. When there is an agreement of care, it must also be proven that the nurse was in direct charge of the plaintiff. There are circumstances when attending doctors may be held liable if they are deemed to be the party responsible for the patient. Upon establishing a clear patient and nurse relationship, it must be proved that a nurse’s negligent actions were the direct cause of the injuries sustained. A plaintiff must show that a nurse caused harm in a way that a competent nurse would not have. As stated previously, a competent nurse provides correct medications, handles medical equipment responsibly, and promptly responds to emergency situations while following hospital protocol. If a nurse does not act in a standard that is deemed competent in comparison to other reasonable contemporaries, then it must be shown that the negligence caused the injuries with specific damages. Nurses can perform below their professional standard, but there must be harm suffered by the plaintiff for malpractice to come into play. Specific damages may include physical pain, mental anguish, additional medical bills, and lost earning capacity as a result of the injuries.

Proving medical malpractice occurred is frequently accomplished through testimony from medical experts. Medical experts aid the jury in deciphering technical, medical information. Medical experts will also be able to address questions central to proving malpractice. The medical expert will be asked to give their opinion on whether or not the nurse fell below the standard or care; and did the nurse’s failure to appropriately follow the professional standard cause a patient to sustain unnecessary injuries. Juries are not required to adopt the expert’s testimony, but it must be used when considering the facts of the case.

Successful plaintiffs will be entitled to recover damages that resulted from the malpractice. To recover damages, a plaintiff is compelled to put an approximate figure on the damages. Putting a price on general damages such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of future earning capacity can be a challenging endeavor. Typically, an approximation is arrived at through witness testimony regarding pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment. Factors such as the age of the patient and length of the injury will also be considered in the pursuit of general damages. Special damages may also be recovered in malpractice cases. Special damages are less challenging to quantify as they include items in the nature of medical bills and past missed work. Finally, punitive damages may also be pursued in malpractice cases. Although punitive damages are rare in these types of claims, they are provided in North Carolina. Punitive damages are not intended for a plaintiff to recover expenses, but to punish a defendant for their actions. Commonly, punitive damages are determined by a judge or jury, but usually, do not exceed more than several times the amount of general and special damages.

Nurses can be responsible for malpractice in the same way all other medical professionals can. Nurses have a professional responsibility to take care of patients who are under their direct care. When a nurse does not meet the standard of care due to their negligence and injuries are sustained as a direct result, a plaintiff will have a claim of malpractice. Proving this claim and recovering damages is typically done through expert and credible witness testimony.

If you or a loved one was injured by the medical malpractice of a medical professional call us.  You will speak directly with a medical malpractice attorney who can best answer your questions and go over your options.  There is no fee for the initial consultation. 

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