Malpractice law does not just apply to doctors. Any medical professional who harms a patient through acts of negligence or carelessness opens themselves up to malpractice claims, including nurses.
That said, the role a nurse plays in the healthcare process is different than that a doctor plays, so the laws governing nursing malpractice also differ. To prove nursing malpractice, you must prove the following:
- That a nurse-patient relationship existed, and that the nurse owed you a particular scope of duty. This is usually proven via hospital records documenting the nurse’s involvement with your care and by expert witnesses testifying about what care is standard in your case.
- The nurse departed from accepted practice regarding your care, which is usually defined as care that a normally prudent nurse would provide in the same circumstances.
- This departure from accepted practice caused your injury.
But even if you are able to prove all of these things, at least one essential question remains: is the hospital or the attending doctor ultimately responsible for the negligent act?
The hospital may be found ultimately liable if the nurse is:
- Their employee
- Fulfilling the duties of his or her job when the injury occurred
- Not under the control of an independent doctor, which means a doctor not employed by the hospital
This is usually the case in a matter of nursing malpractice. But if an attending doctor was in control of the nurse, and could have prevented the negligent act, it might ultimately be this doctor who is the liable party.
Usually the hospital versus doctor question has no bearing on whether the injured patient receives compensation—just who pays that compensation.
Dr. Michael M. Wilson is an attorney and a physician who earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his legal and medical degrees from Georgetown University. He has focused in the area of medical malpractice for more than three decades and secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients throughout the country. He is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.