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Are Nurses at Risk for Lawsuits over Patients’ Deaths and Medication Errors?

Nurses are Exposed to Lawsuits

How often has a nurse expressed that they choose the field of nursing because they wanted to help others, that they are service oriented, and just love how they feel when caring for someone else? Yes, there are monetary rewards, but the money alone has not been the drawing factor to becoming a nurse.

Nurses are exposing themselves to lawsuits at an alarming rate as they take on more responsibility in caring for patients with higher ratios, as nurses in private practice, or as advanced practice practitioners. Often, nurses are not provided protection from lawsuits by their employers, as doctors are. Therefore, nurses must obtain their own Professional Liability Insurance to practice with some assurance of personal protection.

Medical Error Studies

Recent studies of medical errors have estimated errors may account for as many as 251,000 deaths annually in the United States, making medical errors the third leading cause of death. Medical errors occur for numerous reasons, such as the miswriting readback orders, lack of knowledge of medications for certain medical treatments, medication dispensary system errors, large nurse: patient ratios, and nursing shortages.

When Do Nurses Need Professional Liability Insurance?

Professional liability insurance (PLI) protects the cost of patients’ lawsuits claiming substandard work. PLI is needed by professionals who have expertise in a specific area, such as a nurse, which requires protection because general liability insurance policies do not offer protection against claims arising out of business or professional practices such as negligence, malpractice, or misrepresentation. Nurses are not covered under the protection of their employer’s liability insurance coverage.
There are several providers for liability insurance that can be researched for your needs.

The following list is only to be used as a reference source and not suggested recommendations.

  • Hiscox
  • Geico
  • The Hartford
  • Insureon

The Goal is to Improve Human Health

The main professional goal of nurses is to provide and improve human health. Medication errors are among the most common health threatening mistakes that affect patient care. Such mistakes are considered a global problem that increases mortality rates, length of hospital stay, and related costs. According to the dept of health and human services, the FDA receives more than 100,000 reports of med errors every year in the US alone. There are about 400,000 drug-related injuries that happen in hospitals every year because of medication errors.

The Complication of Medication Prescription Mistakes

Close to 6,800 prescription medications and countless over-the-counter drugs are available in the United States. To further complicate a nurse’s responsibility during patient care, there are thousands of health supplements, herbs, potions, and lotions used by the public regularly to treat health problems. With the number of substances on the market, it is conceivable that mistakes can be made when nurses prescribe or dispense drugs. Added to this is the considerable risk of interactions between substances. Fast CE For Less offers an excellent continuing education course on Medication Error Prevention for 2 contact hours. Go to Fast CE For Less to sign up.

Each year, in the United States alone, 7,000 to 9,000 people die due to a medication error. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of other patients experience but often do not report an adverse reaction or other complications related to a medication. The total cost of looking after patients with medication-associated errors exceeds $40 billion each year, with over 7 million patients affected. In addition to the monetary cost, patients experience psychological and physical pain and suffering because of medication errors. Finally, a major consequence of medication errors is that it leads to decreased patient satisfaction and a growing lack of trust in the healthcare system.

The Common Reasons for Medication Errors

The most common reasons for errors include failure to communicate drug orders, illegible handwriting, wrong drug selection chosen from a drop-down menu, confusion over similarly named drugs, confusion over similar packaging between products, or errors involving dosing units or weight. Medication errors may be due to human errors, but it often results from a flawed system with inadequate backup to detect mistakes.

Lawsuits Nurses Face

Most recently the trial Donda Vaught, a former nurse criminally prosecuted for a fatal drug error in 2017, was convicted of gross neglect of an impaired adult and negligent homicide after a three-day trial in Nashville, Tennessee, which gripped nurses across the country. Vaught’s trial has been closely watched by nurses and medical professionals across the U.S., many of whom worry it could set a precedent for criminalizing medical mistakes. Medical errors are overseen by professional licensing boards or civil courts, and criminal prosecutions like Vaught’s case are exceedingly rare.

The increase in lawsuits is causing nurses to be held accountable for various infractions involving patients. For instance, a nurse plead guilty to a fatal fall of a patient in a long-term care facility, and in another lawsuit, a nurse was accused of an inmate’s death, but the officers who hog tied him were not held accountable. From medication errors to patient injuries, nurses are at risk of prosecution or loss of their license to practice.

The overall impact of increased lawsuits on individuals coming into the nursing field is unknown. Considering there is already a shortage of nurses to provide adequate and safe care in healthcare, individuals enrolling in nursing schools and the number of individuals exiting nursing practice will be monitored as lawsuits are brought against nurses.

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