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Why Do Nurses Get Sued?

Chris Murray
Posted on: February 22, 2019 by Chris Murray

Nurses are an important–even essential–part of the healthcare landscape. These skilled professionals are responsible for numerous aspects of the healthcare delivery model, providing care and comfort for patients both in and out of medical facilities like nursing homes. In today’s litigious society, however, nurses are at risk of lawsuits. There are many types of liability in nursing, and facility owners and managers need to understand that the profession is dependent on strong liability insurance solutions. In this guide, we will explore some of the reasons why nurses get sued and how nursing professionals and healthcare facilities can protect against the financial strains imposed by legal claims.

Malpractice in Nursing

Long associated with compassionate care, the nursing profession has evolved dramatically over the past two decades. Nurses are responsible for a wide variety of healthcare tasks, and may be employed by hospitals, clinics, skilled care facilities, and nursing homes. Nurses have rigorous state and federal standards to adhere to, ensuring patient safety. Some of the many tasks nurses may be expected to perform include:

  • Monitoring patient health, including vital signs.
  • Administering medications and certain treatments.
  • Conducting diagnostic tests in inpatient and outpatient settings.
  • Educating patients about healthcare management.
  • Serving as an advocate for the care and wellbeing of patients.
  • Operating medical equipment and devices during procedures/surgeries.
  • Recording medical histories of patients, including acute and chronic symptoms.

It may come as a surprise to many that nurses are at risk of malpractice lawsuits, just like physicians and other medical professionals. The sheer volume of tasks and a direct connection between nurse and patient opens the door to substantial risk exposures; failure to perform a task or to miss the signs of a serious illness may result in the patient or family member filing a liability claim against the nurse. The list above represents only some of the many potential types of liability in nursing. Legitimate or not, liability claims may cost the nurse and his or her facility thousands or even millions of dollars in legal costs and settlements. In fact, over a five-year period, more than $90 million was paid out in nursing malpractice claims, according to the Nurses Service Organization.

Factors Leading to Claims of Nursing Negligence

Nurses are held to a high standard of care, a standard which may vary between states. In general, if a nurse (RN or LPN) fails to use his or her level of skill, training, and care in the diagnosis and treatment of a patient, that nurse may be considered negligent in his or her duties. The litmus test for many nursing negligence claims is whether or not a reasonably careful nurse, performing under the same or similar conditions and circumstances, would have acted differently than the professional facing negligence claims.

There are five primary factors that lead to claims of nursing negligence, according to the American Journal of Nursing:

  • Failure to follow accepted standards of care
  • Failure to use medical equipment responsibly and correctly
  • Failure to assess and monitor patient health
  • Failure to document and communicate patient health status
  • Failure to act in the interests of the patient as a patient advocate

Nursing homes and other healthcare facilities may be held liable for the actions of their nursing staff. Because of the many potential types of liability in nursing, healthcare facilities must carry robust liability insurance to protect the facility, its staff, and its financial assets from the losses associated with legal claims. This specialized form of professional liability insurance should be considered the cornerstone of a risk management program. Regular training and oversight of nursing staff, coupled with regular reviews of nursing practices, can further protect healthcare facilities from damaging liability claims. With these risk mitigation systems in place, the nursing profession can continue to deliver compassionate care for the many patients who depend on their skill and expertise.

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 317.575.4440.

Posted in: blog Malpractice Insurance Medical Malpractice