Types of Laws

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Types of Laws

Types of Laws
Types of Laws

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Another way to look at the legal system is to divide laws into two categories: criminal law and civil law.

Criminal Law Criminal laws were developed to protect society from actions that threaten its existence. Criminal acts, although directed toward individuals, are con- sidered offenses against the state. The perpetrator of the act is punished, and the victim receives no compensation for injury or damages. There are three categories of criminal law:

1. Felony: the most serious category, including such acts as homicide, grand larceny, and nurse practice act violation

2. Misdemeanor: includes lesser offenses such as traffic violations or shoplifting of a small dollar amount

3. Juvenile: crimes carried out by individuals younger than 18 years; specific age varies by state and crime

There are occasions when a nurse breaks a law and is tried in criminal court. A nurse who obtains and/ or distributes controlled substances illegally, either for personal use or for the use of others, is violating the law. Falsification of records of controlled sub- stances is a criminal action. In some states, altering a patient record may lead to both civil and criminal action depending upon the treatment outcome. For example:

In New Jersey State v. Winter V, Nurse needed to administer a blood transfusion. Because she was in a hurry, she did not check the paperwork properly and therefore did not follow the standard of practice established for blood administration. The client was transfused with incompatible blood, suffered from a transfusion reaction, and died. Nurse V then inten- tionally attempted to conceal her conduct. She falsi- fied the records, disposed of the blood and administration equipment, and failed to notify the patient’s health-care provider of the error. The jury found Nurse V guilty of simple manslaughter and sentenced her to 5 years in prison (Sanbar, 2007).

Civil Law Civil laws usually involve the violation of one per- son’s rights by another person. Areas of civil law that particularly affect nurses are tort law, contract law, antitrust law, employment discrimination, and labor laws.

Tort The remainder of this chapter focuses primarily on tort law. By definition, tort law consists of a body of rights, obligations, and remedies that is applied by courts in civil proceedings for the purpose of providing relief for persons who have suffered harm from the wrongful acts of others. Simply put, a tort is a legal or civil wrong carried out by one person against the person or property of another. The

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30 unit 1 ■ Professional Considerations

person who sustains injury or suffers financial damage as the result of the conduct is known as the plaintiff, and the person who is responsible for causing the injury and incurs liability for the damage is known as the defendant (Loiacono, 2005). Tort law recognizes that individuals in their relationships with each other have a general duty not to harm each other. For example, as drivers of automobiles, everyone has a duty to drive safely so that others will not be harmed. A roofer has a duty to install a roof properly so that it will not collapse and injure individuals inside the structure. Nurses have a duty to deliver care in such a manner that the consumers of care are not harmed. These legal duties of care may be violated intentionally or unintentionally.

Quasi-Intentional Tort A quasi-intentional tort has its basis in speech. These are voluntary acts that directly cause injury or anguish without meaning to harm or to cause distress. The elements of cause and desire are present, but the element of intent is missing. Qua si-intentional torts usually involve problems in communication that result in damage to a person’s reputation, violation of personal privacy, or infringement of an individual’s civil rights. These include defamation of character, invasion of pri- vacy, and breach of confidentiality (Aiken, 2004, p. 139).

Negligence Negligence is the unintentional tort of acting or failing to act as an ordinary, reasonable, prudent person, resulting in harm to the person to whom the duty of care is owed (Black, 2009). The legal elements of negligence consist of duty, breach of duty, causation, and harm or injury (Gic, 2009). All four elements must be present in the determi- nation. For example, if a nurse administers the wrong medication to a client but the client is not injured, then the element of harm has not been met. However, if a nurse administers appropriate pain medication but fails to put up the side rails of the patient’s bed, and the client falls and breaks a hip, all four elements have been satisfied. The duty of care is the standard of care. The law defines stan- dard of care as that which a reasonable, prudent practitioner with similar education and experience would do or not do in similar circumstances (Gic, 2009).