Nurses can be sued for following doctors’ orders, court rules

North Carolina Supreme Court removes 90-year-old protection for state’s nurses

Nurses in North Carolina may need to purchase or upgrade their malpractice insurance after a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court.

Last month, the court ruled nurses can be sued for following doctors’ or surgeons’ orders if those instructions cause harm to a patient. The decision struck down a 90-year-old precedent that had protected nurses.

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“Due to the evolution of the medical profession’s recognition of the increased specialization and independence of nurses in the treatment of patients over the course of the ensuing ninety years since this Court’s issuance of the Byrd opinion, we determine that it is timely and appropriate to overrule Byrd as it is applied to the facts of this case,” Justice Michael Morgan wrote for the majority in the 3-2 opinion.

The two dissenting justices said holding nurses accountable for doctors’ decisions would create “liability without causation,” Nurse.org reported.

“In judicially changing this standard, the three-justice majority appears to create liability without causation — allowing a nurse to be held liable for negligent collaboration in the treatment ultimately chosen by the physician. Such a policy choice should be made by the legislature, not merely three Justices of this Court,” Justice Tamara Barringer wrote.

Ashley Hughes, a critical care nurse and legal nurse consultant, pointed out nurses are having to do more work than ever because of staffing shortages, and they have been facing more legal issues recently.

“They’re already short-staffed. On top of that, there is the issue of violence against nurses, nurses are being attacked. There’s the issues about the pay, nurses not being paid appropriately,” Hughes told a local news outlet. “Along with that, criminally, nurses now are being held more on a criminal level, rather than just civil.”

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In addition to considering nursing malpractice insurance, which can protect you from malpractice claims, Nurse.org suggests the following steps you might want to take.

  • Review your state’s Nurse Practice Act
  • Read all updates from your state board of nursing and stay informed of practice changes
  • Keep up with continuing education opportunities
  • Retrain or recertify as needed
  • Join professional organizations
  • Take a course on nursing malpractice or legal liabilities to get informed

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