Many people believe that physicians are ultimately responsible for errors in medical care. But in many cases, nurses can be held directly liable for negligence in nursing that leads to personal injuries or wrongful death. A common cause of nursing negligence arises from failure to monitor a patient.
What Are a Nurse’s Duties?
Nurses are responsible for a wide variety of tasks, including interviewing the patient and taking a medical history, participating in the initial diagnosis, preparing a patient for surgery, and helping with care after surgery. Throughout their care, nurses have a duty to monitor patients for changing conditions. They must keep a close watch for signs of trouble and respond to potential problems in a timely and appropriate manner. If a nurse fails to properly perform these duties, they can be held liable for malpractice.
What Are Examples of a Failure to Monitor a Patient?
Often it is not the doctor who is primarily responsible for monitoring a patient. Nurses are in charge of checking a patient’s vital signs and watching for changes in a patient’s condition.
It is critically important that nurses monitor their patients, especially in the following situations:
Before, During, and After Surgery - Nurses and other medical providers must keep a close eye on a patient’s vital signs, including temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, pulse, and oxygen saturation
During Labor - Nurses should monitor fetal heart rate to keep track of the health of the mother and the unborn child
After Anesthesia - Nurses should track a patient’s vitals to ensure that the anesthesiologist did not administer too much or too little anesthesia
During medical treatment - Nurses must be aware of potential side effects during any type of medical treatment
While Patients are Under Observation - When patients are in the hospital, nurses must supervise patients to prevent injuries
To properly perform their duties, nurses need to pay careful attention to their patients and any changes in the patient’s condition. They must track and record vital signs, changes in pain level, dizziness, and difficulty urinating. They do this by talking to their patients. But they must also look, listen, and touch patients to properly assess any changes in condition. A failure to notice a change in symptoms or not recognizing the significance of the change can lead to complications that, if left untreated, can result in serious injuries or even death.
In addition to monitoring patients for changing conditions, nurses must know when to seek the assistance of a physician or other specialist if a patient’s condition does change.
What Standard of Care Are Nurses Held To?
Liability in nursing practice is based on principles of negligence. To establish nursing negligence, an injured patient must prove:
The nurse owed a duty of care to the patient
The nurse breached that duty
The breach caused injury to the patient
A nurse’s standard of care is the level of care that a nurse with similar training, education, and experience would respond with in a similar situation. This standard is different from the duty of care owned by other medical providers, such as a primary care doctor, a surgeon, or a medical specialist.
There are also different levels of care a nurse owes to a patient based on the nurse’s level of training. There will be a different standard of care if the nurse is a State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA), a Licensed Practical Nurse (L.P.N.), or a Registered Nurse (R.N.).
Who Is Responsible for Nursing Malpractice?
When nursing malpractice does occur, it is important to determine who is responsible. In medical malpractice cases against a doctor, the physician is often not an employee of the hospital. But in cases of nursing negligence, the nurse often is employed by the hospital, and the hospital can be held legally responsible for the actions of its employees, or for their failure to act.
Because there are often many different people who are responsible for caring for a single patient, a critical first step in a nursing negligence case is to determine who was at fault. This requires a thorough review of a patient’s medical chart to identify when the mistake was made and who was responsible.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help by requesting a copy of a patient’s complete medical records and reviewing them to determine when the malpractice occurred and who made the mistake.
Robenalt Law. Seeking Justice for Victims of Nursing Negligence.
If you were injured or someone you loved was killed because of nursing malpractice, you need an experienced medical malpractice attorney on your side. At Robenalt Law, our lawyers will investigate your case and hold the guilty party responsible. But act quickly. Most nursing malpractice cases are subject to a short one-year statute of limitations. If you do not take action you could be prevented from seeking compensation.
Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing doctors and hospitals at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help the families of people who have been injured or killed by negligent health care providers.
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