The expanded role for critical care nurses and the increasing demands placed on them in the care and treatment of patients have led to a concomitant expansion of legal liability for malpractice.

Historically, liability for treatment issues fell solely upon treating physicians as nurses were perceived largely as ministerial. However, with the responsibility of patient care assessment and planning and management being undertaken by critical care nurses, legal claims against nurses are increasing.

Not all unfortunate events in medicine are caused by malpractice. Despite what may be a common societal belief, not all unexpected, unintended, or even undesired medical results can be attributed to the fault of the healthcare provider. The law recognizes that much of nursing care requires clinical judgment. Consequently, a patient must prove 4 requisite elements to establish a malpractice case.

First, the patient must establish that there was a nurse-patient relationship. It is out of the...

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