Most nurses are devoted health care providers, but widespread nursing shortages and poor working conditions often force them to hurry through care while they are exhausted. These conditions can ultimately lead to malpractice in nursing that may cause significant harm to patients.
- What is nursing malpractice?
- What types of health care providers are considered nurses?
- Types of Nursing Malpractice
- Why does nursing malpractice occur?
- Can I sue a nurse for negligence?
- What damages can I recover in a nursing malpractice case?
- How long do I have to file a medical malpractice claim in Illinois?
- Why choose Levin & Perconti for a nursing malpractice lawsuit?
Nurses play one of the most important roles in health care because they provide the majority of direct care in hospitals and other inpatient settings. They typically spend significantly more time with patients than physicians and therapists. Patients and physicians rely on nurses to carry out care plans, meet patient needs, document changes, and respond appropriately to emergencies.
Nursing malpractice can result in catastrophic harm to patients. The Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti help patients hold nurses and facilities accountable for negligence and malpractice.
What is nursing malpractice?
Nursing malpractice occurs when nursing staff fail to provide a reasonable standard of care. A reasonable standard of care is defined as the same degree of knowledge, skill, and ability as an ordinarily careful professional would exercise under similar circumstances.
Nursing negligence may occur in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and patient homes. We have seen cases of negligence in a variety of nursing occupations, including the following:
- Floor nurse
- Surgical nurse
- Home health nurse
- Hospice nurse
- Critical care nurse
- Labor and delivery nurse
- Oncology nurse
- Psychiatric nurse
- Pediatric nurse
- Director of nursing
What types of health care providers are considered nurses?
Nursing malpractice may be committed by the following nursing staff:
- Registered nurses (RNs)
- Licensed practical nurses (LPNs)
- Certified nursing assistants (CNAs)
- Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)
An advanced practice registered nurse is the most advanced type of nurse with the most autonomy. Illinois law allows these nurses to diagnose, prescribe medications, order tests, perform procedures, counsel patients, and provide end-of-life care. They typically work in the following occupations:
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist – Delivers anesthesia to patients before, during, and after surgery
- Clinical nurse specialist – Provides case management for vulnerable patients and complex cases
- Certified nurse midwife – Specializes in labor and delivery services
- Nurse practitioner – Provides primary care services
With the exception of certified registered nurse anesthetists, these nurses can work without physician supervision after they meet training and continuing education requirements. While nursing malpractice can occur at all levels of nursing, advanced nurses have the most responsibility and more opportunity to commit errors, since they can diagnose conditions and prescribe medications.
Types of Nursing Malpractice
Nursing malpractice can impact all areas of patient care, whether the patient is undergoing surgery, recovering from an injury in the hospital, or residing in a skilled nursing facility.
Diagnostic errors occur when advanced nurses, such as nurse practitioners, misdiagnose a condition, fail to diagnose a condition, or delay a diagnosis. According to a study published by the Journal of Professional Nursing, the highest proportion of medical malpractice cases against nurse practitioners involved diagnostic errors, accounting for 41.46 percent of the malpractice claims brought against nurse practitioners.
All nursing staff has the potential to contribute to diagnostic errors. For example, a nurse who fails to notice or document changes in a patient’s condition may prevent a patient from receiving a timely diagnosis.
Diagnostic errors can lead to the following:
- Untreated pain
- Worsening of a condition
- Operable cancer becoming terminal
- Unnecessary medication
- Extended suffering
- Sudden death
Medication errors cause more deaths than car accidents, breast cancer, and AIDS combined. They are the most common medical error in hospitals and the eighth leading cause of death in the United States.
Most medication errors occur during the administration of medications, which is primarily performed by nurses. A study by BMC Nursing found that the most common medication errors committed by nurses include the following:
- Administration at the incorrect times
- Failure to document the dispensing of medications
- Incorrect dose
- Incorrect route of administration
- Wrong medication
- Medication provided to the wrong patient
Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses administer medications. RNs have more training and are generally responsible for supervising direct care, including the administration of medications.
Certified nursing assistants are not qualified to administer medications. Illinois law does, however, allow medication aides to administer some medications under the supervision of RNs in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.
Negligent Infection Control
Patients who are in the hospital or skilled nursing facilities are often vulnerable to infections due to reduced immune function stemming from age, health conditions, or the stress of recovering from injuries. Other patients present with communicable illnesses or infections that could easily spread to vulnerable patients if strict infection control protocols are not observed.
An effective infection control program with staff compliance can prevent infections from spreading. Unfortunately, infection control procedures such as the following are regularly violated in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.
- Properly wash hands between patients
- Wear personal protective equipment, such as disposable gloves, gowns, and face masks as required
- Replace or sterilize personal protective equipment between patients
- Effectively isolate contagious patients
- Use gloves or appropriately wash hands before applying medical equipment to patients
- Use appropriate sterilization techniques for equipment
Patients that require care for open wounds, catheterization, kidney dialysis, and other invasive procedures require a sterile environment. These patients are vulnerable to airborne infections and contaminated equipment.
Staph infections in hospitals and nursing homes, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are rampant. These dangerous infections can lead to sepsis and death.
Negligent Infection Control in Nursing Homes
The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 82 percent of nursing homes nationwide had been cited for infection control deficiencies, and approximately half of these violations occurred repeatedly over multiple years.
A report by the Chicago Tribune stated that Illinois nursing homes rank as the third worst in the nation, with 89 percent cited for infection control violations since 2016.
The Friends Services Alliance, a senior services organization, has found that the following infection control deficiencies are among the most common in nursing homes:
- Improper use of personal protective equipment
- Improper handling and storage of equipment and supplies
- Improper handling of soiled linens
- Unsafe food handling practices
- Inadequate hand hygiene
Failure to Prevent Falls
Patient falls are the most common adverse event in hospitals, according to Clinical Geriatric Medicine, with up to one million hospital falls in the United States annually. Falling in the hospital can cause significant physical injuries and death, especially in older adults.
Acute care patients may be more likely than usual to fall due to injuries and medications that affect balance, orientation, and strength. Elderly patients may have health conditions and disabilities that increase their fall risks.
In either case, nursing staff is responsible for supervising patients, providing assistance with ambulation, and taking steps to mitigate fall risks, including the following:
- Assist patients with daily activities, including showering and toileting
- Adjust bed rails as necessary to prevent falling out of bed
- Closely supervise at-risk patients during ambulation
- Document and report symptoms such as dizziness that could impair balance
Nursing in today’s medical environment requires familiarity with medical equipment used for therapeutic, diagnostic, and monitoring purposes, including high-tech equipment. As frontline staff, nurses are the staff most likely to be present when equipment malfunctions. Nurses often handle equipment such as the following:
- Electronic IV pumps
- Digital monitors
- Wearable monitoring devices
- Oxygen delivery systems
- Feeding tubes
- Electronic medical records
- Smart beds
Operating equipment incorrectly or failing to ensure patient tubing is applied properly can prevent patients from receiving necessary medications and oxygen. A malfunctioning monitor may fail to provide important health information needed to keep a patient alive.
Nurses have a duty to be highly familiar with medical equipment, including how to identify malfunctions and troubleshoot.
Failure to Prevent Bedsores
Patients who are required to remain in bed for long periods or who are confined to wheelchairs must change positions frequently in order to avoid developing bedsores. It is also crucial for their skin to be kept clean and dry, especially in the areas with the most contact with beds and wheelchairs.
Bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers, are painful and can become life-threatening. Healing from bedsores may take years, and in some cases, healing never occurs.
Pressure ulcers are the most preventable injury a patient can experience, and the occurrence or worsening of a bedsore can almost always be traced to nursing negligence. Pressure ulcers are especially common in nursing homes.
Nurses must communicate with patients, doctors, and other care providers. When a patient expresses concerns about pain or new symptoms, nurses should gather as much information as possible from the patient and document the conversation. If a nurse suspects the new symptoms require urgent intervention, they should notify the physician.
Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Nursing home abuse is a heart-wrenching circumstance endured by millions of vulnerable adults every year. The majority of nursing home abuse is perpetrated by nursing staff and includes the following:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Failure to provide basic needs
- Sexual abuse
- Financial exploitation
Abused and neglected nursing home residents experience bruises, broken bones, malnutrition, and frequent falls. Older adults who experience abuse are twice as likely to die prematurely than adults who are not abused.
Why does nursing malpractice occur?
Nursing malpractice may occur as a result of inexperience, misjudgment, or inattention. However, staffing shortages play an important role in the prevalence of nursing malpractice.
A nationwide nursing shortage has resulted in poor working conditions, where nurses are stretched too thin with unreasonable nurse-to-patient ratios. This creates the need to rush between patients during their shifts in an effort to address all patient needs.
Nurse shifts are often 12 hours long, and working under such a strain over such a long period can lead to fatigue, frustration, and reduced productivity over the course of each shift. This ultimately leads to reduced job satisfaction, burnout, and high turnover rates.
The pressure to spend less time with each patient can result in failure to observe important symptoms, failure to document, medication errors, and long delays in answering patient call lights. In addition, nurses may become short-tempered toward the patients.
Understaffing in nursing homes is especially prevalent, and these shortages greatly contribute to nursing home abuse and neglect.
Can I sue a nurse for negligence?
If you experience harm as a result of a nurse failing to provide the appropriate standard of care, you have the right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the following:
- The nurse involved in the malpractice
- A supervising RN
- A supervising physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant
- A hospital or nursing home
- The management company
What damages can I recover in a nursing malpractice case?
Illinois personal injury law allows plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases to recover the following damages:
- Medical expenses that stem from the malpractice
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of society
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of bodily functions
The amount of damages you recover will depend on the following factors:
- The extent of your injuries
- The pain and suffering your injuries cause
- Your earning capacity before and after the injuries occurred
How long do I have to file a medical malpractice claim in Illinois?
The Illinois statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the date the conduct occurred that resulted in your injury. If the injury is discovered later, you have two years from the date of discovery, but no longer than four years after the date of the harmful conduct. The time limit can vary based on the specific factors of your case so it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to preserve your right to pursue compensation.
Why choose Levin & Perconti for a nursing malpractice lawsuit?
Our medical malpractice lawyers have more than 200 years of combined experience holding negligent health care providers accountable for medical errors. Since our founding in 1992, we have built a consistent record of successful settlements and verdicts for our clients, such as the following:
for a former police officer who suffered a life-altering brain injury caused by nursing staff negligence at a Chicago hospital
for the family of a patient who died from severe head trauma and a subdural hematoma after the hospital failed to prevent him from falling, despite the patient’s known risk for falls
for the estate of a 67-year-old man who died from complications related to a fall at Southpoint Nursing Home on Chicago’s south side
against a suburban Homewood nursing home for the family of a deceased 57-year-old resident who was suffocated from improper tracheostomy tube care
against a suburban Hillside nursing home and physician for a 59-year-old resident who developed painful bedsores that became infected and took four years to heal
Not only were they so professional but also so caring and thoughtful. It was very difficult going over the facts in our mother's case but they were so compassionate and understanding and allowed us to be with them every step of the way. We were able to sit in on the depositions and we were really able to see how hard they worked on our behalf.