DO A HOSPITAL, NURSES, AND DOCTORS ALL OWE THE SAME STANDARD OF PROFESSIONAL CARE TO PATIENTS?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Mellies v. National Heritage, Inc., 6 Kan. App. 2d 910, 636 P.2d 215 (1981).
This case addresses the following issue:
Do a hospital, nurses, and doctors all owe the same standard of professional care to patients?
Medical malpractice is simply one type of “professional negligence.” Id. at 912. The first step in bringing a claim for malpractice is establishing what the duty of care is for the defendant. Id. In this case, the court was asked to determine if a hospital, nurse, and doctor had different standards of care, even though all were working as a team to care for individuals. Id. at 913. The court determined that that standard of care is different for these types of professionals and organizations, based upon what the individuals are doing. Id.
Plaintiff was hospitalized in Wichita. Id. at 911. To facilitate her recovery, she was transferred to Defendant’s nursing and residential care facility. Id. While at the facility, Plaintiff was neglected by the nursing staff and doctors. Id. This caused Plaintiff to develop large bed sores on her body, causing her to be re-transferred to the hospital for intensive treatment. Id.
Kansas law makes clear that a surgeon, acting as the head of a surgical team, can be responsible for breaches of a surgeon’s professional standard of care—no matter who makes the mistakes. Id. at 913. The same can be said of a hospital or nursing home, which is described as “reasonable care as the patient’s known condition may require, the degree of care being in proportion to the patient’s known physical and mental ailments.” Id. A hospital must carry out this standard through its staff: nurses, aids, and doctors. Id.
At issue in this case was whether nurses have a separate standard of care, based upon their lesser education and general operation at the direction of a doctor. Id. at 914. The court determined that nurses are held to a standard of reasonable care, based upon their knowledge and experience as a healthcare professional. Id. When the nurses breach this standard, the hospital can also be liable for those actions as the employer of the individuals. Id.
In this case, the court easily found that failure to check a patient for bed sores for weeks was a breach of a nurse’s standard of care. Id. at 916. Other nurses from other facility testified that, in their experience, a patient should be rotated every two hours to prevent such sores. Id. This baseline could serve as a standard of care, and failure to adhere to that standard creates liability for both the nurses themselves and the hospital. Id.