Nurses liable for patient harm carried out under physicians' orders, North Carolina court rules

Nurses in North Carolina can now be sued for patient harm that results from them following physicians' orders, the state Supreme Court ruled last month. 

The Aug. 19 ruling strikes down a 90-year-old precedent set by the 1932 case Byrd v. Marion General Hospital, which protected nurses from culpability for obeying and executing orders from a physician or surgeon, unless the order was obviously negligent. 

The North Carolina Supreme Court overturned this ruling in a 3-2 opinion as part of a separate case involving a young child who experienced permanent anoxic brain damage during an ablation procedure at a North Carolina hospital in 2010. The ruling means the certified registered nurse anesthetist involved in the ablation could be held liable for the patient's harm. 

"Due to the evolution of the medical profession's recognition of the increased specialization and independence of nurses in the treatment of patients over the course of the ensuing ninety years since this Court's issuance of the Byrd opinion, we determine that it is timely and appropriate to overrule Byrd as it is applied to the facts of this case," Justice Michael Morgan wrote in the opinion. 

Read the full opinion here.

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