Nursing Negligence and Malpractice

Nurses have a difficult job with many different responsibilities. Unfortunately, with a shortage of nurses, many hospitals are understaffed, putting patients at risk. Many nurses are also under trained. Mistakes get made; patients get hurt. When a nurse does not act as a “reasonably prudent” nurse, and a patient is injured, it is called “nursing negligence” or “nursing malpractice”. Nursing negligence is a type of medical malpractice and a common cause of malpractice suits.

If you or a loved one was injured in the hospital or while a nurse was caring for you, contact our medical malpractice lawyers today for a free consultation.

Read below to learn more about nursing malpractice.

Common nursing mistakes

Nurses have many different responsibilities across many different medical specialties. As a result, there are many types of nursing negligence. Surgical nurses may not keep a correct county of instruments or sponges, and one might accidentally get left in a patient during surgery (we call these “retained foreign object cases”).

Still, there are some general claims that span across specialties. Generally, nurses are responsible for carrying out physician orders, serve as a communication liaison between doctor and patient, communicate lab and imaging results, observe and assess patients (including taking vital signs), administer medicine, and assist patients with tasks the patients cannot do by themselves. A mistake in any one of these broad responsibilities that injures a patient can be nursing malpractice. Our medical malpractice attorneys have experience with many types of nursing negligence.

Failing to follow orders

Doctors and hospitals have both standard orders and patient-specific orders. Some common orders are turning patients every two hours (to prevent bed sores), obtaining blood gases repeatedly to monitor pH and avoid hypoxia. Nurses must follow these orders, or if the nurse believes the order is incorrect, he or she must “go up the chain of command” and challenge the order. A nurse cannot choose to ignore or disobey an order.

Some examples of nursing negligence cases that arise from failing to follow orders include: failing to turn patients causing pressure ulcers, administering the wrong medication, failing to administer medication, failing to monitor vital signs frequently, failing to obtain imaging studies like CTs or x-rays.

Failure to communicate

Nurses are responsible for keeping doctors aware of a patient’s condition.  Nurses continually check on their patients, and if there is a change in the patient for the worse, the nurse should make sure the physician is aware of the change. It is the nurse’s responsibility to accurately assess the patient and appropriately determine how serious the change is. Nurses also generally communicate test results, like lab values and imaging reports, to physicians. Nurses that care for pregnant mothers and babies must very quickly communicate any concerning changes in either mom or baby to a physician.

Any delay in communication or a mistake in determining the severity of a change in symptoms can lead to patient injury and could be nursing malpractice.

Failure to monitor / assess

Nurses need to pay attention to their patients, and the devil is in the details when it comes to patient safety. Changes in vital signs, increased pain, weakness, dizziness, trouble urinating…the possible changes in symptoms are almost endless. And a nurse cannot rely on their patient to tell them about symptoms changes. Nurses must not only talk with patients, but also use their eyes, ears and hands to properly assess. Improper assessment – either missing symptoms or not realizing the significance of symptoms – can lead to a failure to timely communicate with a physician. Patients can have a complication that goes undetected and untreated, resulting in injury. Nurses that are caring for pregnant mothers and babies should be skilled at reading fetal monitoring strips and assessing contraction patterns.

Failure to assist

Nurses are responsible for assisting their patients to do what the patients cannot do for themselves. This, of course, requires a nurse to either properly assess a patient first or to follow assistance orders put in place by a doctor or hospital.

One of the most common and easily avoidable events is patient falls. Many times, patients need assistance standing or walking. Those patients are considered a “fall risk,” and need assistance to walk. This could be for many reasons, such as weakness, medication, or dizziness. Nurses are responsible for accurately assessing a patient’s fall risk,developing a reasonable plan to minimize the risk, and executing that plan. The failure to do any of those things properly can lead to patient injury.

Error in execution / just doing it wrong

Sometimes nurses just do something wrong, i.e., there is an error in execution, and the patient is injured. Examples include starting an IV wrong, injecting a shot wrong, putting in a catheter wrong, or charting something wrong.

Who is responsible for nursing negligence?

Most nurses are directly employed by the hospital or medical office in which they work. Under a legal theory called “respondeat superior”, the employer is responsible for the negligence of its employees. So when a nurse works in a hospital, the lawsuit usually names the hospital as a defendant.

How does a nursing malpractice lawsuit work?

Nursing negligence is generally a type of medical malpractice, so a nursing malpractice case proceeds in the same way as other medical malpractice lawsuits (when the negligence happened during labor and delivery, we refer to the case as a birth injury lawsuit). On rare occasions, the nursing mistake is so bad that the claim does not require expert testimony on the applicable standard of care (i.e., to tell the jury what a reasonable nurse would have done under the circumstances). Those cases are “general negligence” cases.

Medical malpractice cases begin first with Hoffer & Sheremet’s preliminary review of the patient’s medical records. If we think there may be a case that should be pursued, we obtain expert opinions on both standard of care and causation. If we have expert support, we issue either a demand or a Notice of Intent. After the mandatory waiting period, we file the lawsuit. It is a slow process, but we get you the damages to which you are entitled.

I think I have a nursing negligence case

If a nurse made a mistake, and you or a loved one were harmed as a result, contact our medical malpractice attorneys for a free consultation and we can review the basis of your medical malpractice claim. You may call us for a free consultation without an appointment at 616.278.0888. We can also be reached via email at, or by filling out our free consultation form.