I left full-time nursing 30 years ago because I witnessed a situation in which a doctor made a mistake that harmed a patient, and they then tried to blame it on the nurse. The nurse was a friend of mine as well as a respected colleague, and I felt I was powerless there to help her or to protect myself if a similar situation ever happened again. But I also felt horribly for the patient, who didn’t deserve to have been harmed and then had to endure additional treatments because of the doctor’s negligence. I went to law school and have been a medical malpractice lawyer for over 28 years. The very things that disillusioned me to working in the ER are the things I’m able to focus on now, fighting for patients while ensuring that the people and institutions that are truly responsible for medical malpractice are held responsible for their negligence.

I didn’t wholly give up nursing when I went into law, though. I’m still a registered nurse, and many of my clients tell me that they chose me because of this. It’s reassuring for my clients to know I can understand what happened to them medically, and because I’ve worked in the ER of a hospital, I can see through the weeds about how those institutions work. I’ve drawn on both my career as a nursing and as a malpractice attorney to write this guide to nursing malpractice.

Image of doctor and patient.

Can nurses be sued for malpractice?

Any medical professional, including nurses, can be sued for medical malpractice. As a registered nurse who used to work in an ER, I know how difficult and strenuous nursing can be, but I also know that nurses are highly trained and expected to uphold a standard of care for all their patients. I do that as a registered nurse, and I know what level and type of care is expected of a nurse. I also know that a nurse’s negligence can have devastating, even fatal results. If you were a patient and you were harmed because of something your nurse did or didn’t do, please call my office today. They should be held responsible, and you shouldn’t have to endure this without any support.

What is malpractice in nursing?

Medical malpractice occurs when a nurse causes an injury to a patient through a negligent action or inaction.

The 4 legal requirements for medical malpractice in nursing:

  1. The nurse was providing care to the patient
  2. The nursing was negligent, not upholding the standard of care
  3. The nurse’s negligence caused an injury to the patient (causation)
  4. The patient suffered actual injuries (damages)

If a nurse wasn’t treating the patient at the time of the patient’s injuries, the nurse couldn’t have caused the injuries and can’t be held responsible for them. If the nurse was treating a patient and their actions harmed the patient, but the nurse was operating based on known information at the time, they weren’t being negligent. The same is true if a nurse didn’t take a needed action, like alerting a doctor to a change in a patient’s condition, because it wasn’t known or apparent that the patient needed that action. Nursing malpractice attorneys must prove all 4 requirements in malpractice cases.

What is the standard of care in nursing?

Standard of care refers to what another medical professional would have done in the same situation. For example, if a diabetic patient is lethargic and their eyes are glassy, the standard of care would be to check their blood sugar levels. If a nurse fails to do so, they have failed to uphold the standard of care. If the patient then suffers an injury as a result of their inaction, the nurse would have committed malpractice. Every mistake or lapse in judgement isn’t neglect. Nurses are human, after all. However, if the patient is injured, this is neglect and the nurse can be sued for it.

Common types of nursing malpractice

  • Delayed treatment
  • Ignoring the patient or the patient’s complaints
  • Giving the patient the wrong medication or wrong dose
  • Failing to give the patient medication or a needed treatment
  • Not cleaning a patient
  • Not replacing soiled bedding
  • Failing to feed a patient who needs assistance with eating
  • Not providing water
  • Misreading or wrongly recording vitals
  • Failing to uphold treatments plans
  • Failing to properly monitor a patient
  • Botching a treatment
  • Failing to treat patients in emergencies, such as when a patient is vomiting, coding, or bleeding

Possible signs of nursing malpractice

  • A patient not getting better despite treatment
  • Soiled or smelly bedding or clothing
  • Bed sores
  • Unexplained bruising or wounds
  • Infections
  • Lethargy
  • Inconsistencies in reported vitals checks
  • The nurse ignoring or not responding to calls for a long time
  • The nurse being disinterested or refusing to listen to the patient’s concerns or complaints

Why does nursing malpractice happen?

Crowded healthcare facilities, understaffing, and inadequate funding are 3 main causes of medical malpractice. For nurses who should only have 4-6 patients on a standard hospital floor, they often have 7-8. A critical care nurse, like I used to be, should only have 1 patient at a time. Now they have 2. Sometimes patients line the hallways and supplies run low. A nurse can’t provide Gatorade to a patient with dangerously low sodium levels if that product isn’t provided to them, even if the drink was ordered by a doctor to supplement salt tablets and saline IV. Likewise, a nurse can’t diagnose a patient or write prescriptions for medications, and they can’t make a disinterested or negligent doctor do their job. Nevertheless, nursing malpractice is extremely serious because, by definition, someone was harmed because of a nurse’s negligence. Malpractice can occur outside of hospitals too, like in home hospice, nursing homes, urgent cares, and doctor’s offices. I have sympathy for the difficult positions nurses are put into, but I have also built my career around patient’s needs and I have no problem holding negligent nurses responsible for the harm they bring to their patients. Unfortunately, for some nurses, negligence is a pattern, and holding them legally accountable is the only way to break it and protect future patients.

Who is legally responsible in nursing malpractice cases?

Nurses monitor patients, take vitals, educate patients, call doctors, and at times provide treatments. Their jobs are incredibly important. However, they can’t diagnose patients and they are limited by what the doctors order and what the place where they work provides in terms of support and supplies. Under some liability laws, an employee acts on behalf of the institution that employs them. In nursing malpractice cases, the healthcare facility that employ’s the nurse may be legally responsible because of their employee’s neglect. A hospital or nursing home doesn’t have to be directly negligent to be responsible for the neglect of its employee. Inadequate training, supervising, and hiring practices could all be ways that a nurse’s employer is responsible for their malpractice.

Why should I hire a medical malpractice attorney?

It sounds a bit uncouth is say, but an individual nurse probably doesn’t have a lot of malpractice insurance. Doctors, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities often have much more insurance. The damages you incurred as a result of your injury may outstrip what a single nurse’s insurance can provide in compensation. By working with a meticulous, experienced malpractice attorney like me, you have the best chance of getting the most compensation possible for your injuries. I know the standard of care, I can read medical records, and I’m experienced in discerning exactly who should be held responsible for your situation. I worked in hospitals and have almost three decades of experience navigating the intricacies of legal responsibility in malpractice cases.

Should I accept the insurance settlement I’ve been offered?

I always say the first thing a person should do if they’re considering a malpractice lawsuit is to add up their damages. Once you do, you’ll have an idea of how much compensation you’re owed.

Items included as damages include the following:

  • Medical bills for past care
  • Medical bills for ongoing and future care
  • Wages lost due to the injury you sustained because of neglect (not your initial injury or health complaint)
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Any permanent changes to your accommodations that must be made because of your injury (wheelchair ramp, stair lift, shower chairs, widening of hallways or doorways, etc)

If the settlement insurance is offering doesn’t cover even your basic bills and damages, or if the full extent of your future care isn’t yet known but a hospital or insurance company is trying to get you to accept a settlement, don’t accept. Call me to set up a free consultation. I’ll be able to hear your story, go over your bills and medical records with you, and help you get everything you’re owed. I’d also be happy to talk with you if you aren’t sure if what’s being offered is fair. As I mentioned, I’ve been doing this for many years, and I have a deep well of experience to draw from on your behalf.

What documents does a malpractice attorney need?

To help me get the full picture of what occurred, I need to know as much as possible as early as possible. I can read medical records and tell when someone is hiding something or trying to cover up something they did. But I need the medical records. You can request copies of your medical records from your healthcare providers at any time. CT scans, X-rays, and the results of other scans and tests are also important to help me get the full picture of why you were being treated by a nurse, the injury you suffered, what happened to cause it, who is responsible, and what your life will look like long-term as a result of this injury. It’s also helpful if you write down everything you can remember about your treatments and what happened just before and during the incident that harmed you. When we’re in a meeting, it can be hard to remember everything. Having it written out beforehand, you have a chance to get everything down in chronological order, and you’re more likely to remember everything you want to say and ask.

When should I call a nursing malpractice lawyer?

There are a few exceptions regarding children, but generally the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases is 2 years after the date of the incident. It’s very important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after receiving the injury so that my team and I have plenty of time to research, gather documentation, and file a strong lawsuit on your behalf within those two years. Many lawsuits settle out of court in what’s known as arbitration, but the process can be long. For your sake as well as the legal requirements, it’s important to start as soon as possible.

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We feel she made our future brighter despite what had happened. We cannot thank Tracey enough for representing us during this life changing ordeal. WE would highly recommend her to anyone. She and her staff are not just our lawyers, but they are our friends.
– Janice C.

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