Criminal Liability for a Medical Mistake

Medical mistakes happen. But medical professionals don’t go to jail for medical mistakes, right? Well…

Recently, a registered nurse in Tennessee inadvertently administered the wrong medication to a patient, which unfortunately caused the patient’s untimely death. The nurse was subsequently charged and convicted of several crimes, including negligent homicide. She faced up to eight years in a Tennessee prison. The judge suspended her sentence and placed her on three years of supervised probation.[1]

Medical mistakes — absent allegations of ill will, intent to harm, or reckless disregard for the value of human life — are not likely to result in criminal charges. Nonetheless, thoughtful care and supportive documentation are always helpful to insulate medical professionals from civil liability — and in those rare instances, from criminal liability.

At Waranch and Brown, we believe the medical profession is comprised of individuals who value human life and are dedicated to helping others. We believe this Tennessee case is an aberration; however, we are monitoring it closely and will continue to stay current on legislation, trends, and developments in the law so that we may offer our clients the best advice available.

Bottom Line: While we view this case as an anomaly, it serves as a reminder for institutions to have appropriate safety measures in place and for providers to never cease using care and common sense.

If you have questions concerning potential exposure due to a medical mistake, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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[1] If she successfully completes the probation, she will not serve any time in prison.

April Hitzelberger

April Hitzelberger

April Hitzelberger is a partner at Waranch & Brown. Her practice focuses on the defense of health care providers in medical malpractice, research study and professional licensure matters. She has successfully litigated and tried cases in the District and Circuit Courts of Maryland and represented health care providers in licensing and credentialing matters. She also maintains a special interest in appellate advocacy and has argued before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.