Can A Nurse Be Sued For Malpractice?

Wondering if a nurse can be sued for malpractice? Or when they can be? We’re about to cover:

  • When and why nurses get sued.
  • The mistakes nurses make that constitute medical malpractice.
  • When the nurse is liable, and when the hospital, doctor or other medical professional is.
  • How to sue a nurse for malpractice.

Most people see doctors as “bosses” and nurses as “assistants”. Doctors diagnose patients and prescribe medicine. Nurses monitor patients and administer medicine. Most of the time, nurses are just following orders. So what happens when a nurse makes a mistake? Are they responsible? Can a nurse be sued for malpractice?

The short answer is yes. Nurses can be sued for malpractice when they make errors. But not every error constitutes malpractice under the law. The nurse’s mistakes must have caused harm to the patient. Read on to discover when and how you can sue a nurse for malpractice. 

Nurse gives medicine to patient.

When Can A Nurse Be Sued For Medical Malpractice?

The word “nurse” implies care. You hope that your nurse will do their best to take care of you. And you hope they’ll do it with a smile. Unfortunately, many nurses seem to have forgotten how to turn their frowns upside down. But you can’t sue a nurse just because of their atrocious “bedside manner”.

Three things must be true to sue a nurse for nursing malpractice:

  1. The nurse made a mistake that breached the “standard of care”. This means they did something that a reasonable nurse in a similar situation would not have done.
  2. Missteps made by the nurse harmed the patient. 
  3. The incident occurred within the last two or three years. (The statute of limitations puts a cap on how long you have to sue after malpractice takes place. It varies by state.) 

Of course, those are just basic guidelines. If you believe a nurse harmed you and are thinking about suing, contact a malpractice lawyer. This type of lawyer is prepared to answer the question, “can a nurse be sued for malpractice?” as it pertains to individual cases. 

Can You Sue? Nurse Mistakes That Constitute Nursing Malpractice

Most of the time, nurses are kind, caring people who don’t make mistakes on purpose. But sometimes, nursing malpractice occurs when they’re exhausted and overworked. 

If a nurse fails to perform their medical duties, it can cause grave harm to a patient. Take for example the case of a 62-year old female patient who died after her nurse failed to inform her physicians about a “significant change” in the patient’s health. The nurse made a note that the patient vomited during the night, but didn’t call the doctor. The next day, the patient died of “pneumonia as a result of aspiration.”

The patient’s son filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital. At trial, the jury awarded him $500,000, finding that the nurse’s negligence caused his mother’s death. 

Failing to contact a physician when necessary is one example of nursing malpractice. But one of the most common nursing mistakes is administering the wrong medication or wrong dosage. Can a nurse be sued for nursing malpractice over medication mistakes?

It’s possible. But the medication snafu has to cause the patient harm. If it’s no harm, no foul, you can’t make a claim. (It’s a scary fact, but you may never notice the medication error anyway). 

And here’s a fact that may blow your scratchy hospital socks off: nurses make mistakes in five out of every 100 administrations of medication. That’s according to a study published by the American Journal of Nursing. But the good news is only 1 in a 100 mistakes will actually injure a patient.  

Here are other nursing mistakes that can constitute nursing malpractice:

  • Leaving a patient unattended or unmonitored. 
  • Failing to carry out a physician’s orders. 
  • Not assessing and noting the patient’s activities and status. 
  • Not helping a patient out of bed or to the bathroom.
  • Incorrect application of catheters and IVs.
  • Hygiene failures that lead to infection.
  • Failing to dress and clean a patient’s wounds.
  • Knocking over medical equipment.

If any of the errors above lead to harm, the nurse might be liable for malpractice. For example, a nurse might fail to help a patient to the bathroom, and they fall and injure themselves. Or they might injure a nerve in the patient’s arm while trying to insert an IV. 

Sometimes these failures are the result of a shortage in staff. Many for-profit hospitals try to protect their bottom line. They overwork their nurses, and don’t hire enough staff members to provide adequate care for all patients. This is one reason why hospitals may also be liable when a nurse commits nursing malpractice. 

Who’s Liable, A Nurse Or Someone Else?

Sometimes cases are as cut-and-dry as sterilized gauze. Other times, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who is liable for the error.

Consider the complex case of Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins. Nurses gave the twins an extreme overdose of blood thinner. The twins recovered, but other babies who received a similar overdose did not. 

In that case, the nurses placed the blame on confusing labels on the blood thinner drug bottles. Quaid ended up suing the drug company for negligence instead of the nurses. 

Liability is a key issue that your malpractice lawyer will help you sort out. There are several factors to consider, such as:

Nurses Are Hospital Employees

You may already know that employers sometimes have to take the blame for their employee’s mistakes. Hospitals employ nurses. So they’re often liable for their mistakes. 

Here’s an example.

A patient goes to the hospital with shortness of breath and chest tightness. The doctor does everything she’s supposed to; diagnoses the patient with pneumonia, takes all necessary precautions, then leaves the patient in the nurse’s care. The nurse, however, fails to closely monitor vital signs, and misses early signs of a deteriorating condition.

The patient’s condition worsens substantially as a result, and nearly dies before they catch on. While the nurse made the mistake, because she’s an employee working at the hospital, and was not working under the charge of an independent doctor, the hospital is likely to bear the responsibility.

Sometimes, both have to pay the Piper.

Your claim could also name both a nurse and a hospital. Or it may name the hospital only, even though a nurse made the mistake. Oftentimes, hospitals handle nursing malpractice cases and make settlements to patients. Then they might discipline the nurse for their mistake. 

Doctors May Be Liable As Well

Doctors may be liable for malpractice if they were there when a nurse made a mistake. As the supervisor, they are responsible for the nurse’s actions. 

Here’s an example.

Let’s say a nurse administers the wrong medication to a patient. Because the attending doctor was there and in charge, she or he may be responsible. If the patient sues, it may be the doctor’s reputation and pocketbook (or insurance anyway) on the line.

Can a nurse be sued for malpractice if they were just following a doctor’s orders? That’s a complicated question. The doctor, or both the doctor and the nurse, could be liable. If the doctor gave wrong orders and the nurse should have known they were wrong, the hospital could be liable too. 

Nurse and doctor discuss patient's care.

How To Sue a Nurse For Malpractice 

If you were injured at the hospital, you may be wondering if the nurse who injured you can be sued. That’s a question that a medical malpractice attorney can help you answer. 

This is why the first step to suing a nurse is to contact an attorney. You can schedule an initial consultation to find out whether it’s in your best interest to sue. If you then decide to proceed with your claim, your law team will help determine whether your nurse, or someone else, is liable for nursing malpractice. 

You may be hesitant to sue a nurse because you think they’re a good person. Maybe they didn’t make the mistake on purpose. But you shouldn’t have to pay for their mistakes. You’re entitled to compensation for unexpected medical bills, plus the care and equipment you may now need because of your injury. 

Keep in mind that nurses and hospitals have malpractice insurance. They know that mistakes can happen. And the responsible party should pay for them. 

So don’t wait. Contact Hampton & King to discuss your options today. Schedule your free initial consultation here.