Falls: Jury May Use “Common Knowledge” to Assess Nurse’s Conduct

June 1, 2010 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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A California court of appeals held that a plaintiff need not retain an expert witness to provide an opinion on the standard of care that pertains to a nurse assigned to care for a patient who had been placed on a falls prevention protocol and who was injured after falling from a walker. In so ruling, the court characterized the case as one of “ordinary” negligence and not medical malpractice.

The patient had undergone femoral bypass surgery to improve circulation in his legs; nurses assessed the patient for risk of falling and placed him on a falls prevention protocol that included raised bed rails, a walker, and assistance. The patient scored 60 on the Morse Fall Scale, which ranks any score over 45 as a fall risk. The day before his fall, the patient had walked 120 feet with supervision with his walker. The lawsuit alleged that the patient summoned a nurse to help him walk to the bathroom and that the defendant nurse allegedly placed the patient on a walker and then told the patient that he would “be right back,” explaining that he had to leave “to do something.”  The patient stood in his walker unassisted for a period of 15 minutes, after which the patient took a step forward on his own with the walker, lost his balance, and fell backwards against the floor. As a result, he experienced a compression...

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