NC Supreme Court Issues Opinion Regarding Nursing Liability

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision on August 19, 2022 that may impact nursing liability in medical malpractice cases.

In Connette v. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, the Court held that a CRNA could be subject to liability for medical malpractice while acting under the supervision of a physician when collaborating in the development of a patient treatment plan. Previous North Carolina case law largely exempted nurses from liability when performing duties under physician supervision unless (1) the nurse negligently performed his or her duties, or (2) the nurse carried out an order that was so clearly negligent that any reasonable person would expect substantial patient harm to occur.

In reaching its decision, the Court considered whether advance practice registered nurses owe a statutory, professional duty of care to patients when they are involved in the planning of, collaboration on, and selection of a patient’s treatment. The Court specifically concluded that “even in circumstances where a registered nurse is discharging duties and responsibilities under the supervision of a physician, a nurse may be held liable for negligence and medical malpractice in the event that the registered nurse is found to have breached the applicable professional standard of care.”

It is important to note that the Court’s decision does not change any current statutory or regulatory requirements related to physician supervision. However, the decision does open a potential new avenue for nurse liability that trial courts must determine how to apply in medical malpractice cases.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Barringer remarked that the policy change should have been by the General Assembly and not the Court.

The full opinion can be accessed here.