Legal Memorandum: Nurse's Duty of Care towards a Patient

Issue: Under the laws of various states, what duties do nurses and surgical technicians have to protect a patient from being subjected to unnecessary procedures or procedures that the patient has not consented to receiving?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Nurses and surgical technicians; Exercise ordinary or reasonable care; Unnecessary procedures
Jurisdiction: Federal, Multistate
Cited Cases: 236 S.E.2d 213; 596 N.Y.S.2d 789; 417 P.2d 816; 517 N.W.2d 328; 211 N.E.2d 253; 435 N.E.2d 305; 383 U.S. 946; 870 P.2d 221
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2001

In the performance of professional duties, a nurse must exercise ordinary or reasonable care to ensure that a patient suffers no harm.  Burrows v. Hawaiian Trust Co., 417 P.2d 816, 821 (Haw. 1966); Ybarra v. Spangard, 154 P.2d 687, 690 (Cal. 1944).  If the nurse is a specialist, such as a nurse anesthetist, the nurse is held to a standard of care based on the skill and care normally expected of nurses with the same education and training, and is negligent if he or she fails to apply that degree of skill and learning in treating and nursing a patient that is customarily applied in the same community.  Whitney v. Day, 300 N.W.2d 380, 382 (Mich Ct. App. 1980).  Generally the standard of care applicable to a nurse is established by expert testimony.  Berdyck v. Shinde, 613 N.E.2d 1014, 1022-23 (Ohio 1993) (mere fact that a particular act is within a physician’s duty of care does not necessarily exclude it from the duty of care owed to the patient by the nurse as the duties may be owed by both).

A hospital is liable for the negligent acts of its employees committed within the scope of their employment.  Poor Sisters of St. Francis Seraph of Perpetual Adoration, Inc. v. Catron, 435 N.E.2d 305, 307 (Ind. Ct. App. 1982).  The failure to recognize and report abnormalities in the treatment and condition of patients may constitute a breach of the duty of reasonable care […]

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