Author: Malcolm P. "Mic" McConnell, III, Richmond, VA Medical Malpractice Attorney
Medical malpractice claims against nurses are on the rise. Recent studies suggest that nurses are more frequently being found liable when a patient is harmed as a result of a failure to provide reasonable care. For example, researchers at the Nurses Services Organization (NSO) found in one study that more than $90 million was paid out in malpractice claims against nurses filed over a five-year period. The NSO report included malpractice claims that were filed against registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and licensed vocational nurses.
The NSO report explores the ways in which nursing malpractice can occur.
Administering Care in an Area Beyond Field of Medical Expertise
The risk of nursing malpractice increases when a nurse provides care in an unfamiliar area. For example, the NSO reported on an elder-care nurse who took an assignment providing care for a two-year old child in the home. The child ultimately suffered a brain injury and seizures because the nurse was unfamiliar with child care and provided an inadequate – and unreasonable – response to the child’s needs.
Failure to Properly Administer Medication
Nursing malpractice can also occur when a nurse fails to properly administer medication. This can happen when a nurse administers a drug incorrectly or does not understand how certain medications work or interact with other medications. The NSO has reported that drug-related errors have declined significantly due to better drug label warnings and other awareness efforts by pharmaceutical companies. However, improper administration of medication can still occur, and according to reports, while the number of events has declined, the severity has increased. As a result, mistakes related to negligently administered medications will likely have more severe consequences for patients in the future, contributing to the claims filed against nurses for this type of malpractice.
Failure to Properly Monitor Patients
Malpractice can also occur when nurses fail in one of their primary duties: to properly monitor patients. A nurse can become liable for malpractice when the nurse fails to notice and react reasonably to a sign or symptom that the nurse should have noticed. Most often, as reported by the NSO, nurses often wait too long before contacting supervising doctors or alerting others to a patient’s change in condition.
Failure to Correctly Follow Doctor's Orders
Another common type of nursing malpractice involves the failure to follow physican orders, either deliberately or because the nurse misunderstands the physician’s instructions. While this type of nursing malpractice can have severe consequences, it may also be the easiest to avoid, requiring a nurse only to be more attentive and/or to seek clarification.
What You Can Do
Because nursing malpractice claims are becoming more common, patients should be their own advocates. Be sure that your nurses are familiar with your medical needs. Ask questions and share all necessary information to help your nurses administer competent care. Also, if you have concerns about your nurse’s competence or expertise, do not hesitate to speak with a supervisor. For more information on nursing malpractice claims, visit the Nurses Services Organization.
About The Author: Malcolm "Mic" McConnell is the lead Medical Malpractice attorney at the Allen Law Firm and has nearly 30 years of experience handling cases in a variety of medical specialties. Mic was named the Best Lawyers' Medical Malpractice Law - Plantiffs "Lawyer of the Year" in 2013 and 2016.
 See PDF document titled “Nurse Professional Liability Exposure: 2015 Claim Report Update “at http://www.nso.com/risk-education/individuals/claims-reports/risk-management-resources-for-nurses-claim-studies.
 See id; see also PDF document titled “2015 Claim Report Update Executive Summary” at http://www.nso.com/risk-education/individuals/claims-reports/risk-management-resources-for-nurses-claim-studies.