February 2012, Volume 42 Number 2 , p 14 - 15
Does "double jeopardy" ever apply to nurses? That is, could a nurse be sued twice for the same allegation?-J.T., R.I.Yes and no. If a nurse's actions are being reviewed in a criminal case, a civil lawsuit against the nurse may be postponed until the criminal court decides if the nurse is criminally liable. State boards of nursing also usually wait to learn the criminal court's verdict before deciding whether a nurse may keep his or her nursing license. But a patient who's been injured by a nurse's actions may file a civil lawsuit against the nurse even if the nurse isn't found criminally liable.If the injured patient is dissatisfied with the outcome of a civil case and attempts to bring a second civil lawsuit against the nurse, the legal doctrine of res judicata-meaning "a thing settled by a judgment"-prevents that patient from arguing the same issues in a second lawsuit. However, if the patient names new parties or raises new issues in a second lawsuit, then res judicata wouldn't apply and the nurse could face another trial.This doctrine also doesn't apply to appeals of the original court's decision. The appeals courts exist to provide relief to parties who don't believe the original court's decision should be the final decision in the matter.I work in a long-term-care facility that doesn't honor do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders unless they've been signed by a physician. I feel conflicted when family members have DNR papers and say they don't want CPR for their loved one, but we must initiate CPR anyway because the document hasn't been signed by a physician. Is my legal obligation to honor the family's wishes or to follow facility policy? And is this policy legally sound?-L.R., MO.You're right to be concerned. Patients have the right to create advance directives that limit the care they receive at the end of life. This right is also supported by the right of competent adults to accept or refuse care. Many states have laws that further define how these rights are applied.