Medical Malpractice Cases: Nurse and Paramedic Malpractice

Malpractice is negligence committed in the course of carrying out professional duties. Malpractice involves a professional injuring a patient or client by providing services that fall below the standard of the average qualified member of that profession. Thus, legal malpractice involves an act or omission where a lawyer’s conduct falls below the standards of conduct of the average qualified lawyer, accounting malpractice involves conduct that falls below the standards of the average qualified accountant and medical malpractice involves conduct that falls below the standards of the average qualified physician.

But what about health care providers other than physicians, such as nurses and paramedics? Are they held to a standard of professional liability? Can they be held liable for medical malpractice? The answer, in Massachusetts, is yes.

Nurses are held to the standard of care of the average qualified nurse. Keene v. Brigham & Women’s Hosp., Inc., 439 Mass. 223 (2003); Delicata v. Bourlesses, 9 Mass. App. Ct. 713 (1980). Thus a nurse commits malpractice whenever he fails to do something that the average nurse would do — such as bring a decline in a patient’s condition to a physician’s attention, properly change an IV line, or make appropriate medical notations in a patient’s chart. Id.

Under Massachusetts law, paramedics are likewise liable for their medical malpractice. Musto v. Cataldo Ambulance Serv., 4 Mass. L. Rep. 31 (1995).

Note that nurses and paramedics are not held to the same malpractice standards as a physician. A physician’s failure to take a particular action in a certain situation might be malpractice, but a nurse’s failure to take the same action in the same situation might not be. Physicians, nurses and other health care providers have different types of knowledge and skill and therefore their duties are different as well.

Allowing the actions of nurses, paramedics and other medical professionals to give rise to liability for malpractice makes sense for several reasons. First, what the tort of malpractice is premised upon is the idea that certain groups of people, by virtue of training that they share in common and examinations which they must pass, all share a certain amount of knowledge and a certain basic level of competence. Thus, it can be said with a fair amount of certainty when the level of services provided by a member of the group falls below the skill and competence of the average member of the group. Nurses and paramedics are like physicians, lawyers and accountants inasmuch as their education and training is standardized and they possess certain knowledge and skills in common.

A second reason for holding nurses and paramedics responsible for their malpractice is that our health care system is increasingly relying upon non-physician health care providers. It makes sense that whoever is providing the bulk of health care in our society should be held responsible for the injuries which result from improper care and should be financially incentivized to provide uniform levels of care.

If you believe that you or a loved one have been the victim of medical malpractice committed by a nurse or paramedic, the Boston medical malpractice lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. are available for a free consultation.