Here I talk medical malpractice and how it’s a form of personal injury law where the actions of a health care provider, the treatment facility, or both, have led to a negative outcome for a patient. Nurses can be named in these lawsuits if the plaintiff believes that their actions contributed to the injury. This could be a career destroying situation if you are not prepared. If you find that you have been named in a medical malpractice lawsuit, make sure that you follow all the necessary steps as outlined by your attorney.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Simply defined, medical malpractice is improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment of a patient. This could be from the actions of a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, radiologist, or nurse. In order to protect nurses and other health care providers from frivolous claims of malpractice or negligence, the law stipulates that four elements must exist in order for a lawsuit to be considered viable:
- That a duty of care was owed by the nurse
- The nurse violated applicable standards in care
- The patient suffered a compensable injury as a result
- The injury was the direct result of a deviation in the standard of care
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the burden is always on the patient to prove that all of these elements existed.
Understanding the Legal Jargon
As a nurse, your vocabulary centers around blood counts, syringe types, and vital signs. You should also know some key words related to medical malpractice:
- Standard of Care – From a legal standpoint, the standard of care refers to what the majority of nurses would do when faced with the same circumstances that led to the claim of medical malpractice. For example, nurses monitoring a laboring patient would contact the attending physician immediately if they saw a rapid decline in fetal response on the monitors. If you fail to do that, then you have deviated from the accepted standard of care in that situation. It is not necessarily an action defined in a law book, but it is what is considered acceptable by the majority of the medical community. The patient can use other nurses as witnesses to prove how you did not meet the standard of care in their case.
- Compensable Injury – A compensable injury is one that resulted in obvious losses to the patient. This could be in increased hospital or medical bills, loss of employment or even future employment. Simply put, the lawsuit cannot exist unless the patient can prove that they suffered some form of financial loss as a result of the injury.
- Duty of Care – If you are named in a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is because at some point you were responsible for the care of that patient. This could be with direct contact, or indirect if you were responsible for overseeing inexperienced nurses at the time.
- Negligence – An action (or lack of one) that leads to injury, disability, illness or death. In most cases, in order for negligence to exist, it must be proven that the defendant was aware of the possible risk associated with their actions.
Common Examples of Nurse Negligence
Any one of the following could be construed as negligence, and result in you being named in a medical malpractice action:
- Failing to properly monitor a patient in your care
- Not taking vital signs at the correct times
- Forgetting to take an important vital sign
- Failing to enter the nursing record onto a patient’s chart
- Administering the wrong type or dose of medication
- Giving medications at the wrong time
- Not checking bed ridden patients for the presence of bed sores
- Not responding quickly to a patient’s call button
- Failing to report a symptom or complaint to the doctor
Your best defense is to always follow the accepted standards of care, and document all of your patient interactions. Charting is not only in place to monitor the condition of a patient, it is there to show proof of each action you have taken with a patient and why.
What Should You Do if Named in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Personal injury laws do vary slightly from state to state. If you are personally named in a lawsuit, whether solely or as a part of the facility you work in, you should contact an attorney right away. They will be able to help you sort out the specifics of the case in relation to the laws that govern your state.
The hospital or clinic that you work in will likely have nursing malpractice insurance to help cover any losses from a lawsuit, but this is not always enough. You could also protect yourself and career by purchasing an individual policy. Having individual nursing liability coverage will provide you with an attorney that works to protect your best interests, not those of the institution that employs you.
Nurses never mean to do any harm to a patient, but sometimes situations extend beyond our control. The best way to defend yourself in a medical malpractice suit is to always have documentation that you worked in the best interest of every patient, to the absolute best of your ability.
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