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Can School Nurses Be Sued for Medical Malpractice?

When a child is injured by a medical professional in a healthcare facility such as a hospital, you have the option of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the person to recover compensation for damages and losses your family suffered as a result. However, the same can't necessarily be said about school nurses. If your child is injured at school and the care provided by the school nurse fails to meet the standard required by his or her profession, your options for recovering money for damages may be limited. Here's more information about this problem.

Private Schools vs. Public Schools

The ease in which you would be able to sue the school for medical malpractice will depend on whether you child goes to private school or a public school. Private schools are funded and supported by private organizations and individuals. They're typically not protected from medical malpractice lawsuits unless the parents signed a contract with the schools giving up or limiting their rights to sue.

Public schools, on the other hand, are funded and supported by the states. This means school employees are essentially government employees. It's important to understand this because government agencies and employees often enjoy certain protections against lawsuits, and those protections can be extensive depending on the state.

For instance, sovereign immunity protects Georgia schools from lawsuits. A school or school employee cannot be sued in a state court unless the school has waived sovereign immunity protection. In some districts, parents can sue the school if the facility has insurance, but the parents can only collect damages in an amount up to the policy limit regardless of how much their actual losses were. Unfortunately, these insurance policies typically only cover school busses. School nurses in these districts would still be protected by government immunity.

You can overcome sovereign immunity by suing in federal court. However, medical malpractice claims have traditionally been the domain of state courts. A medical malpractice lawsuit against a state entity will typically only be heard in federal court if:

  • The case involves the federal government in some way (e.g. federally funded clinic)
  • There is a diversity of citizenship (e.g. there are multiple litigants who live in different states)
  • The actions of the negligent party violates federal law (e.g. the negligent conduct also violated a person's civil rights)

Even if the school doesn't have sovereign immunity, there are usually procedures you have to go through before you can move forward with a civil lawsuit. For instance, in many areas, you have to file a claim with the school first and wait for a response. Only after the school denies your claim or fails to respond within a specified period of time can you launch a lawsuit against it.

Before investing time and money in a lengthy medical malpractice lawsuit, consult with an attorney about the protections the school nurse may be under and ways you can get around them.

Proving Medical Malpractice

Getting to court is only the first step in litigating a medical malpractice lawsuit. You still have to prove the school nurse did something wrong, which means showing all four elements of a medical malpractice lawsuit are true:

  • The nurse had a duty to the patient
  • The nurse breached that duty
  • The patient suffered an injury
  • The nurse's breach caused the injury

The circumstances of your case will determine how easy or difficult it will be to prove all these elements. For example, there may be times when the nurse has no obligation to treat a student (e.g. after school has ended for the day or the nurse is off the clock), which effectively eliminates his or her duty to the patient. Sometimes the nurse's negligence isn't the cause of the injury, so the nurse wouldn't be held liable for it.

Medical malpractice cases are challenging to litigate, so you should work with an attorney, like one from Snyder & Wenner, P.C., to put together a viable case that will help you collect the compensation you need to care for your child.