Forensic, General & Medical
Expert Witnesses

Standards of Care in Nursing


Standards of care or standards of practice in nursing are general guidelines that provide a foundation as to how a nurse should act and what he or she should and should not do in his or her professional capacity. Deviating from this standard can result in certain legal implications.
Background on Standards

A standard is the established practice that is accepted as correct within that particular industry. Organizations that provide oversight often develop standards of practice in order to define the type of quality that should be provided. In nursing, these standards change as new methods and technology change. They are based on the most recent scientific data available. Regarding nursing, standards have been developed through the contribution of administrative, academic and clinical experts.

Standards of Care in Nursing

Standards of care in nursing are important because they recognize the trusted role that a nurse plays. These standards are considered the baseline for quality care. They must be developed while assessing the state and federal rules, regulations and laws that govern the practice of nursing. Other agencies and organizations may also assist in the development of these standards. Standards of care apply equally to nurses in various settings. They govern the nurseís practice at every level of practice.

Often, standards of care are established at the national level so that care will be the same regardless of the venue. However, states and local areas may also establish their own set of standards of care.

Importance of Standards

Nursing standards of care are important for a number of reasons. They outline professional expectations of nurses. Additionally, they guide nurses on proper protocol and give them an objective standard to evaluate other nurses with. Additionally, they provide consistency throughout the profession so that patients receive quality care. Ultimately, standards give nurses the necessary information that they need to know the quality of care that they must provide to patients and establish measures in which to evaluate the care provided.

Generally, nurses are expected to be in compliance with these standards and to ensure that their own underlings are in compliance. It is critical that they comply with these standards in order to protect the public whom they treat.

Legal Implications

If a nurse does not meet the accepted standards of practice, he or she may be found negligent if his or her negligence caused a patient harm. In most litigation, a nurse is accused of violating a standard of care in a negligence lawsuit. In the medical profession, this is often referred to as malpractice.

Nurses may be held liable in malpractice cases if they inappropriately administer medication, fail to monitor equipment, fail to warn patients about known harms or fail to protect patients from known dangers. Nurses are required to completely and accurately report the assessment and observations that they make regarding each patient in a timely manner. If they do not monitor the patientís condition or be alerted to changes in the patientís condition, they may be found negligent. Nurses have a duty to communicate changes to the attending doctor to avoid harm to the patient. Additionally, not complying with state rules regulating the nursing practice regarding the delegation of certain tasks to unlicensed individuals or mishandling patient identification can also cause legal liability to arise.

Special Knowledge or Skill

If a nurse has a special knowledge or skill, the standard that the nurse is judged against is this special knowledge and skill. This means that rather than comparing what another nurse would have done in the same situation, the question is how a nurse with the same special knowledge or skill would have acted in the same or similar circumstances.

Legal Assistance

When a nurse does follow the standards of care, he or she better insulates the nurse to legal liability or a finding of an ethical violation. Nurses that realize the importance of complying with nursing standards and who do actually comply with these standards are less likely to be held legally accountable if a patient is harmed and brings a personal injury lawsuit. By not complying with these standards, a nurse is more likely to be the first person penalized for his or her actions. Individuals who are accused of medical malpractice may wish to discuss their case with an attorney who focuses on medical malpractice defense.


While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

Find an Expert Witness

Find an Expert Witness