1. Brooke, Penny Simpson APRN, MS, JD

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Could you explain the difference between a lawsuit claiming professional negligence and a criminal charge of negligence?-M.W., N.Y.


Professional negligence is a breach in a professional person's duty of care that results in injury to someone else. Nurses can breach the duty of care by providing care incorrectly or by neglecting to provide needed care. A patient alleging nursing negligence must show that he sustained an injury caused by the nurse's action or failure to act. The standard for professional nursing behavior is what an ordinarily reasonably prudent nurse would do under the circumstances.


Any citizen can bring charges of criminal negligence against a nurse (or other professional) who omitted care or provided care in such a reckless way as to endanger the patient's life. If the government investigates and finds sufficient evidence, a prosecutor will argue the case. In such a trial, the nurse's intent is often the key element in determining guilt or innocence.