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Can a nurse face criminal charges for a nursing error?

It is a shocking headline. Anyone that kept up with nursing news in Texas likely stumbled across a headline outlining how a jury sentenced a former East Texas nurse to death for mistakes made while providing care for patients. How could something like this happen? Is it really possible for a nurse to face criminal charges for a mistake?

When does a mistake lead to criminal charges?

Let’s take a step back and discuss the case noted above. In this case, former nurse William George Davis allegedly made more than a simple mistake. The prosecution was able to gather evidence to support allegations that he intentionally injected air into the patient’s arterial lines.

One example of the evidence used by the prosecution was security video footage that clearly showed Mr. Davis as the last person in one patient’s room before the patient suffered an unexplained neurological event. A scan showed the reason for the event: air in the arterial system. Mr. Davis never provided information about the possible reason for the injury. Instead he stood by quietly while doctors tried to treat the patient, who ultimately died from the injuries.

This patient was one of four who died while in Mr. Davis’ care. The prosecution states at least five more were injured due to the presence of air in their arterial system.

So, to answer the question above, in this case a mistake led to criminal charges when it was more than a simple mistake. The prosecution was able to establish that the nurse’s actions were intentional. As such, not only was the former nurse found guilty of the criminal charges but the jury also agreed to a death sentence for the nurse.

Are there other instances that can result in criminal charges?

The example above is, thankfully, an anomaly. However, there are certain mistakes that can result in criminal charges. Two of the more common examples of mistakes that result in criminal charges against nurses include medication errors and allegations that a patient was injured because the nurse did not give that patient enough attention during their shift.

How can I protect my license if under investigation?

Criminal charges can result in nursing license discipline. Accepting a plea deal which, from the criminal defense perspective, may seem like a good deal could have an unexpected impact on your nursing license. As a result, it is important to discuss the matter with legal counsel experienced in nurse license matters to better ensure the actions of a criminal defense attorney do not impact your chances for retaining your license.

Attorney John Rivas is responsible for this communication