Nursing and the law

Introduction

A health professional carries out his or her duties within a particular legal and ethical framework. The legal and ethical guidelines are meant to regulate the conduct of registered health professionals in order to curb unlawful or illegal acts, which are potentially hurtful to patients and/or harmful to the reputation of medical professionals. This task is a case analysis of a scenario involving a health professional and a patient who allegedly succumbed to death because of the RN’s illegal action.

Torts

Any unlawful action that is potentially hurtful to another person committed in the course of a person’s duty or general human interaction is referred to as a tort. Tort is underpinned by concepts of wrongs and compensation. Through the tort law, people are compensated for injuries or losses sustained because of another person’s unlawful actions (Miller, Cross & Jentz, 2010, p.150; Statsky, 2010, p.2).

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Therefore, in a tort lawsuit, an individual brings a personal case against another person or group to obtain financial damages (compensation) or other remedies for the injury or loss suffered. For example, in this case study, the patient’s family plans to take a legal action against the RN who they allege hastened the death of their loved one. Torts are “categorized as either intentional or torts of negligence” (Cherry & Jacob, 2005, p. 158).

RN v The Patient Scenario- Tort of negligence

A tort of negligence takes place when a person suffers an injury or loss because of another person’s failure to live up to a required duty of care (Goldman & Sigismond, 2010, p.83; Staunton & Chiarella, 2007, p. 39). Contrary to deliberate torts, in a tort of carelessness, the tortfeasor neither purports to cause the outcomes of their action, nor considers that the actions can take place.

Tortfeasor’s behaviour simply brings about a risk of such consequences. It is pertinent to note that, if the tortfeasor’s action does not create risk, then, there is no negligence. Furthermore, the risk must be predictable; therefore, it must be such that a reasonable person doing the same activity would foresee the risk and lookout against it (Walston-Dunham, 2008, p.219).

In this scenario, the defendant, as well as her employer, owed the patient a duty of care by virtue of being under their care at their nursing home. The defendant was required to ensure that the patient is not subjected to conditions that could potentially lead to exacerbation of her health, or cause physical and psychological harm. The defendant was also required to take necessary measures to prevent further deterioration of the patient’s health in opportune time.

The defendant violated the deceased’s duty of care because, instead of giving the patient the expected possible medical attention, she sought to transfer the patient to another hospital contrary to the latter’s wish. Apparently, the defendant did not take any necessary medical action following a clear deterioration of the patient’s health. Furthermore, contrary to professional ethical standards as stipulated by Westrick & Dempski (2008, p.58), the RN was more concerned about her situation at the expense of the helpless elderly patient.

The defendant sought to defend herself from a possible legal responsibility due to the demise of the deceased by transferring her to another hospital in a manner that was hurtful. Rather than advising the patient’s family about where they could access better health services, the defendant sought to cover herself unprofessionally from a foreseeable liability by hurriedly transferring the deceased to another hospital.

The plaintiff (the deceased’s family) suffered a legally recognizable loss because tort law is supposed to protect all of their protected interests including the well-being of their relatives. Their loved one suffered unnecessary distress in the hands of the defendant and eventually lost her life.

Apparently, the defendant’s breach of the deceased’s duty of care was the cause of the patient’s death because her failure to take the necessary medical actions and unwelcome transfer to another hospital hastened the death of the patient. Otherwise, if the defendant had dealt with the patient’s health status carefully, and in accordance to the expected reasonable professional standards, the death would not occur.

The argument that the defendant carried out the transfer based on her duty of care to ensure the patient received the best possible medical attention does not hold any water. There is no evidence to show that the patient would not have received the best medical attention at their nursing home.

Moreover, the RN did not take any other medical action herself at the nursing home that would possibly show that the transfer was ultimately unavoidable and was done in good faith. The manner in which the decision to transfer the patient was made shows that, the RN was more concerned about her situation and how she could defend herself from a foreseeable liability rather than help the patient get the best possible medical attention. She even confined this to a colleague.

Conclusion

The RN in this scenario is under a professional and legal obligation to act and conduct herself in a way that is not hurtful to patients and their loved ones. However, her actions predictably violated the patient’s right of care. Therefore, the court should grant the deceased’s family damages because of the loss, suffering, and pain incurred due to the death of their loved one. Moreover, the deceased had expressed her wishes to die in the nursing home given her deteriorating condition; hence, the transfer was unwarranted.

References

Cherry, B., & Jacob, S. R. (2005) Contemporary nursing: issues, trends, & Management. New York, NY: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Goldman, A. J., & Sigismond, W. D. (2010). Business Law: Principles and Practices. New York, NY: Cengage Learning

Miller, R., Cross, F. B., & Jentz, G. A. (2010). Essentials of the Legal Environment. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Statsky, W. P. (2010). Torts: Personal Injury Litigation. London: Cengage Learning.

Staunton, P., & Chiarella, M. (2007). Nursing and the Law. Sydney: Elsevier Australia.

Walston-Dunham, B. (2008). Introduction to Law. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Westrick, S. J., & Dempski, K. (2008). Essentials of nursing law and ethics. New York, NY: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

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