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Malpractice claims against nurses are on the increase

In New York, as elsewhere in the nation, nurses are an integral and essential component of the health care system. Doctors and hospitals have traditionally been the defendants most often sued in a medical malpractice case. However, nurses can also commit acts of medical malpractice which harm patients under their care. The Critical Care Nurse Journal observes that since nurses have acquired more and greater responsibilities over the years, legal claims against them have correspondingly increased. The Advance Healthcare Network points out that, in 2001, a little over 8,000 malpractice cases were reportedly brought against nurses. By 2010, that number increased to 50,000 cases.

According to the New York State Education Department, the three types of nurses licensed in this state are as follows:

  • Registered Professional Nurse (RN)
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LP)
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP).

An RN is licensed to perform health assessments of patients, execute medical regimens as prescribed by physicians and nurse practitioners, and manage and deliver care to the ill and disabled. An LPN performs skilled nursing care tasks and procedures under the direction of an RN or a physician. An NP has additional education and expertise in an area such as pediatrics or acute care. In collaboration with a licensed physician, the RN may diagnose, treat and prescribe for a patient's condition that falls within their specialty area of practice.

NursingCenter.com concludes that several factors have contributed to the increase in the number of malpractice suit s brought against nurses. First, as a result of hospitals cutting costs and employing fewer nurses, the remaining nurses may be tempted to delegate more of their tasks to unlicensed assistive personnel. Second, hospital downsizing contributes to greater workloads on the nursing staff thereby increasing the possibility for errors to be made. Third, more informed customers of health-care services should be more aware of malpractice issues and recognize inappropriate or insufficient care.

Types of malpractice committed by nurses

American Nurse Today finds that most malpractice claims against nurses are the result of one or more of the following causes:

  • Failure to follow the standards of care mandated by the hospital relating to giving medications or using medical equipment and devices.
  • Failure to communicate to physicians changes and observations of a patient's condition.
  • Failure to properly document the patient's treatment.
  • Failure to assess and monitor the condition of the patient.
  • Failure to act as the patient's advocate.

The failure to properly document can be catastrophic for a patient. For example, if a nurse administers a drug to a patient but fails to document that fact, a colleague could subsequently administer the same drug leading to an overdose of that medication. According to the Critical Care Nurse Journal, adverse drug events are actually the most common cause of medical error. Interestingly, 30 percent of all medical malpractice cases involve medication errors which result in patient injury. Patients can be injured from being given the wrong medication dose or from having the wrong medication administered. Injuries can also result from an incorrect method of administering the drug.

Bringing suit for malpractice

Do not allow yourself to be an uncompensated victim of nursing malpractice. If you feel that you or a loved one have suffered injury due to the negligent acts or omissions of a nurse, call an attorney experienced in handling malpractice claims. The attorney can discuss the matter and advise you on your options for seeking compensation against the nurse and the physician, hospital or nursing home which employed the nurse.

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