Malpractice Versus Negligence in Nursing

In the United States, it’s estimated that 250,000 people die every year due to medical errors. Not every one of these deaths is a result of malpractice—doctors are human beings after all, and sometimes they make mistakes. 

However, for those quarter of a million Americans who lose their lives to medical errors, many–if not most–of these deaths could have been prevented if proper procedures and established standards of care had been followed correctly. Today, let’s examine medical malpractice and how fault is established. 

We’ll also look at examples of negligence in nursing, how negligence plays a role in the seriousness of the case, and what you can do if you believe you’ve been a victim of malpractice and need a Columbia nursing home abuse attorney.

Malpractice Among Doctors Versus Nurses

It is a doctor’s duty to prescribe treatment to a patient—that may involve surgery, medication, a specific diet, or monitored bed rest. Malpractice cases against doctors may be warranted if the treatment or quality of care fell far outside of established medical regulations and protocols. 

The nurse’s job, except in surgery where they may assist a doctor, is to carry out a doctor’s treatment orders. This may include dispensing medication to the patient as directed by the doctor, examining the patient’s wellbeing at regular intervals, making the patient more comfortable, and assisting with changing and bathing. 

Malpractice occurs at the doctor level when a treatment is ordered that is outside the established standard of care expected by modern medicine. When that treatment leads to an injury, or when the doctor demonstrates an outright disregard for the safety of their patient, it becomes malpractice.

At the nursing level, malpractice occurs when a nurse fails to carry out the doctor’s orders properly, fails to monitor the wellbeing of their patient, or demonstrates a callous disregard for the patient’s safety. 

Negligence or Malpractice?

The easiest way to understand the difference between negligence and malpractice is to ask—what is the motive? Negligence is injury or death as a result of either an accident or carelessness. Malpractice is a higher level of severity where it’s clear that the doctor or nurse should have known better, and their disregard for established practices caused grievous injury or harm to their patient. Here are some examples of both negligence and malpractice as it relates to nursing:


  • While working her afternoon shift, the nurse forgets to dispense seizure medication to a patient at 4:00 PM as prescribed. As a result, the patient has a seizure and falls out of bed, injuring themselves. 
  • While bathing a patient who has an IV bag attached, the nurse slips and accidentally rips the IV needle out of the patient’s arm, causing an injury that requires stitches. 
  • A nurse who is on her third overtime shift this week administers one hundred milliliters of medication instead of the 150 milliliters prescribed by the doctor. This leads to the patient’s condition worsening, which causes additional suffering and extra treatment in the hospital. 


Here, we will use the exact examples provided above, but enhance them to the level of malpractice:

  • The nurse forgot to dispense the medication because according to the CCTV cameras, she was on her phone at the nurses station for the better part of the day while neglecting to check on her patients. 
  • After the nurse slips and rips the IV out of the patient’s arm, she goes to seek help—multiple employees report smelling alcohol on the nurse’s breath.
  • The nurse simply “eyeballs” the amount of liquid medication dispensed into the cups while making her rounds. Upon further investigation, it comes to light that she has been fired from four previous hospitals for incompetence and dereliction of duty.

Next Steps

If you believe you are the victim of either medical negligence or medical malpractice, you may be entitled to compensation. It’s important to discuss your case with a qualified medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible so they can begin examining your case. 



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