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What Are the Most Common Causes of Nursing Malpractice?

Many Americans have personally received care from a registered nurse. Nevertheless, due to a number of misconceptions about the nursing profession, not everyone appreciates the level of intelligence, education, and training required to become a registered nurse. Nurses are much more than someone who simply assists a doctor.

Becoming a registered nurse is a serious undertaking. Nurses are highly educated. Then, after completing years of study, registered nurses undergo rigorous testing and training. Ultimately, nurses play a vital role in the delivery of healthcare in the United States.

Of course, the nursing profession also comes with great responsibility. Nurses are routinely involved in complex situations in which their decisions have profound effects on the health and welfare of their patients. Many people owe their health and their lives to the decisions and actions of nurses.

However, when nurses fail to meet the standard of care demanded of their profession, the outcome can be tragic. Malpractice can lead to serious medical harm and even to death. In this article, we will provide a little insight into the nursing profession and discuss some of the most common causes of nursing malpractice.

A Life in Nursing

Though it is filled with challenges and hard work, many nurses love their profession. Nurses are highly paid, highly sought after, and enjoy great job security. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) states that nursing is America’s largest healthcare profession, with approximately 3.8 million registered nurses in the United States. The AACN cites federal data projecting that more than 200,000 new nurses will be needed yearly from 2016 to 2026. Thus, we can expect nurses to be heavily involved in the healthcare industry for many years to come.

Causes of Nursing Malpractice

Nurses play dynamic roles in healthcare, so the types or malpractice that can occur are wide-ranging. However, some types of nursing malpractice occur more than others. Here, we will provide some common examples and their causes.

  • Communication errors: One of the most common causes of nursing malpractice is incorrect communication, or a failure to communicate. Nurses often spend a lot more time with certain patients than doctors do. Thus, doctors rely on nurses to properly communicate information to them about the patient’s condition. A common error that can be catastrophic is a failure to communicate changes in a patient’s condition. Sometimes, had the doctor known of the change, the doctor would have taken a different action. Another example of poor communication is when a nurse does not adequately explain information to a patient.
  • Fatigue: Fatigue can lead to many different types of malpractice. If nurses are exhausted, they are more likely to make errors in judgment and to perform their jobs improperly. Fatigue can occur in hospitals due to long shifts, unpredictable hours, and changes in schedules. These types of scheduling issues are sometimes associated with hospital work, or may be exacerbated by socio-environmental events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Medication errors: Needless to say, medication errors can have life and death consequences. These errors can occur in numerous ways. Nurses may simply forget to give a patient his or her medication at the appropriate time. Sometimes, medication is given in the wrong dosage. Additionally, medications are sometimes confused and administered to the wrong patient.

Are Medical Malpractice Cases Involving Nurses Different?

When people hear about medical malpractice, they often think it refers to doctors. Some people are surprised to find out that medical malpractice can result from the negligent, improper, or illegal actions of any medical professional who is responsible for a patient’s care. An important example is medical legal cases involving nurses.

Nurses are the medical professionals most often on the front lines of patient care, and they occasionally make mistakes. Unfortunately, these mistakes sometimes result in the harm or death of a patient. In other words, malpractice cases involving nurses can and do occur.

While we at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield know that most nurses are good-intentioned, hard-working professionals doing their part to make their communities healthier, we also believe that it’s important to hold people responsible for any negligent, improper, or illegal actions that result in pain or loss of life. Keep reading to learn more about nurses and medical malpractice, including how malpractice cases involving nurses differ from other types of medical malpractice

Nurses and Medical Malpractice: Can I Sue a Nurse for Malpractice? 

It’s important to note that not every mistake a medical professional makes constitutes malpractice. Medicine is an exceptionally complex field, and mistakes are bound to occur. Medical malpractice refers specifically to instances where a medical professional does not fulfill duties in a way that other medical professionals would in that same situation, leading to the harm or death of a patient.

It’s important to differentiate between medical malpractice and actions taken by medical professionals that result in undesirable patient outcomes. If those actions would have been taken by other medical professionals in the same situation, then malpractice did not occur. The purpose of pursuing a medical malpractice claim is not only to try to recover economic and non-economic damages, but also to hold people responsible for their harmful actions to hopefully prevent future harm from occurring.

Hospital Liability

One of the most significant differences between malpractice cases involving nurses and malpractice cases involving doctors is that, when the malpractice case involves a nurse, it’s usually the hospital that’s held liable for any economic or non-economic damages. However, hospitals aren’t necessarily liable for negligent or harmful behavior of doctors. This is because nurses and other medical technicians are employees of the hospital. Doctors, on the other hand, are often not employees of the hospital, but rather considered independent contractors.

There are some situations where hospitals can be liable for a doctor’s actions and other cases where a doctor could be liable for a nurse’s actions. For example, if a doctor is an employee of a hospital and that doctor commits medical malpractice, the hospital can be held liable as well. If a nurse commits medical malpractice under the direct supervision of a doctor, it’s possible that the doctor could be held liable, even if he or she is not an employee of the hospital.

The circumstances of every medical malpractice case are different. When it comes to medical legal cases involving nurses, it’s important to know who is ultimately responsible before pursuing a claim.

Malpractice Cases Involving Nurses: Examples

As mentioned above, not every medical legal case involving nurses will result in sole liability of the nurse. However, it’s important to understand what roles they can play in instances of malpractice. Nurses are typically the care providers who interface with patients directly. Some of the most common examples of medical malpractice cases involving nurses include:

  • Failing to act when action is required
  • Injuring a patient with equipment
  • Improperly administering medication

If a nurse notices something of concern, or should reasonably be expected to notice it, the nurse and hospital may be held liable if that nurse fails to notify the attending doctor. When it comes to the administration of medication, nurses can be held liable if they fail to follow orders properly.

Because of the complexity of medicine, there are unfortunately countless opportunities for mistakes – and thus for medical legal cases involving nurses – to occur.

Call with Questions

While most Americans have great experiences with nursing care, some people are not so lucky. If you or a loved one has been injured or suffered harm due to the negligence of a nurse, you likely have many questions about your rights. The experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are here to answer them for you. We offer free consultations and have helped medical malpractice victims all across the state of Oregon – just give us a call with your questions. We believe that the only way to make society safe for everyone is to hold professionals accountable when their negligence causes harm.