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Can Non-Physicians be Sued for Malpractice?

When most hear the word “malpractice,” they assume that you mean malpractice by a physician. However, healthcare workers such as nurses, technologist, and therapists can also commit malpractice. In today’s post, the Houston medical malpractice lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will answer the above with a “Yes!” He will then review medical malpractice law as it applies to non-physicians and then discuss the legal remedies that may be available to those injured by the negligence of these workers.

What is non-physicians medical malpractice?

In law, malpractice occurs when a trained professional “… fails to exercise the degree of care and skill that a similarly situated professional of the same specialty would provide under the circumstances.” Under this definition, not only doctors but other professionals such as accountants, engineers, lawyers, and financial advisers can (and sometimes do) commit malpractice. In this post, we will limit our discussion to medical malpractice by non-physicians.

In healthcare, the “medical professions” are usually defined as medicine, nursing (RN only), and pharmacy. More recently a separate classification, “Allied Health Professional” or “Para-professional” has emerged to include other healthcare workers such as Physician’s Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, x-ray and lab technologist, dietitians, and therapists that work in support of medical professionals. Under the Law of Tort (“negligence”), non-physician medical professionals and para-professionals can be sued if they commit an act that a similarly-trained and experienced worker would not have committed and that act resulted in an injury to a patient. Note that the malpractice must have caused an injury: if no injury occurs, then there is no legal ground for a lawsuit.

Examples of non-physician medical malpractice

The majority of non-physician malpractice cases involve “midlevel” care providers such as Physician’s Assistants and Nurse Practitioners. By virtue of their experience and training, these care providers are granted a wide degree of latitude in the types of patients that they see and in the treatments they prescribe or administer.

  • In a California case, a woman fell and suffered injuries that included a fracture of the radius bone that involved her right wrist and she was referred to a private orthopedic group for treatment. At that practice, she was seen by a Physician’s Assistant (PA) who, over the next five months, unsuccessfully treated the woman with manual realignments of the fracture and casts. After five months without improvement, the PA consulted a physician in the same orthopedic practice. This physician “admonished” the PA and recommended immediate surgery. The women filed a malpractice suit against both the PA and the orthopedic practice were awarded $552,000 in damages after a jury trial.
  • In 2007 a 42-year-old woman went to a medical clinic complaining of generalized weakness and occasional fevers of 102⁰. She was seen by a Nurse Practitioner (NP) who diagnosed influenza. Over the next two weeks, she made repeat visits to the NP with the same complaints, which the NP dismissed as due to obesity and probable premenopausal in nature. Worsening symptoms sent the woman to the local ER, where she was diagnosed with endocarditis, an infection of a heart valve. After undergoing heart surgery, the woman was rendered a near-invalid due to blood clots that traveled from her heart to her brain before her surgery. The woman sued the NP and the clinic’s supervising physician alleging that failure to properly diagnose directly lead to her becoming a virtual invalid. Her lawsuit was settled out of court for a reported $1 million.

The role of a malpractice lawyer in non-physician medical malpractice cases

Although the cases cited above involved a PA and an NP, it is unknown how many errors by para-professionals have contributed to incidents of medical malpractice. Regardless of the actual number of such malpractice, malpractice does occur and often is deliberately “hidden” from the victims of these mistakes.

Those who think that they, or a family member, have been the victim of medical malpractice are advised to contact a medical malpractice lawyer to discuss the known facts of their case. Only these lawyers will have access to medical experts and other resources that can help you prove your case in court so you can receive fair compensation for your losses. One attorney who has represented medical malpractice victims is the medical malpractice attorney at the Doan Law Firm, a nationwide law firm.

When you contact the medical malpractice lawyer at the Doan Law Firm, your initial consultation is always free of charge and does not obligate you to hire our firm to represent you in your medical malpractice case. Should you decide to hire our firm as your legal team in your medical malpractice case, we will assume responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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