Understanding Malpractice in Nursing

Nursing Malpractice: An overview

In a profession that deals with actual lives, even the smallest of mistakes are scary and can be very dangerous since committing a simple mistake can result to grave consequences, even worse, they can harm the lives of patients.

Malpractice is negligence, misconduct, or breach of duty by a professional person that results in injury or damage to a patient. In most cases, it includes failure to meet a standard of care or failure to deliver care that a reasonably prudent nurse would deliver in a similar situation. Specifically, in nursing, this occurs when a nurse fails to competently perform his or her medical duties and that failure harms the patient.

Statistics show that medical malpractice in nursing has significantly increased in the past few years, which probably means that nurses should be concerned about the elements involved in malpractice and avoid being sued thereafter.

When it occurs

Nursing malpractice happens in many situations. Below are some of the instances when nursing malpractice occurs:

Doing or Saying Nothing When Action Is Required

In cases of emergency, a nurse may be liable if he or she doesn’t take appropriate immediate steps such as administering a medication or calling for help. Also, since a nurse is under the duty to monitor a patient’s condition, the nurse may be liable for malpractice for not notifying the attending doctor in cases wherein he/she notices something of concern, or should notice it.

Injuring a Patient With Equipment

This commonly occurs in connection with medical equipment, such as accidentally piercing the patient with a sharp tool, or accidentally dropping a heavy object on them, burning the patient or leaving a sponge inside the patient after surgery.

Improper Administration of Medication

If the nurse fails to follow the doctor’s orders when administering medication, she or he will be liable for malpractice if the patient is injured. The nurse may also be liable for negligently following otherwise proper orders, like injecting a medication into muscle instead of a vein or injecting the wrong patient.

Who can be held liable for nursing malpractice

Liability for nursing malpractice depends on many factors. One of the main concerns is whether the nurse acted at their own discretion or whether they were simply following instructions from a superior (like a doctor or surgeon). The persons that can be held liable for the nurse’s malpractice may include:

The Hospital

A hospital can be liable for the nurse malpractice if:

  • the nurse was acting for the benefit of the hospital
  • the nurse was an employee of hospital and being supervised by hospital
  • the nurse was doing a job instructed by hospital
  • No other independent doctor instructed the nurse

The Attending Doctor

An attending doctor that is supervising the nurse may also be liable for the nurse’s malpractice if:

  • the doctor was present at the time of nurse malpractice
  • the doctor was supervising the nurse
  • the doctor had control of nurse’s job and could have prevented the nurse’s conduct

In cases where both the doctor and the nurse acted negligently together, the hospital itself can be held liable.


Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

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