Nursing students play a significant role when they go for internships in health care institutions. They help fill gaps, especially when there is a shortage of staff. In return, nursing students gain hands-on experience as they learn first-hand from experienced personnel. As a nursing student, you are mostly delegated tasks by your supervisor. You could err in a job assigned to you by violating a patient’s rights or harming them. The patient or their relatives may file a complaint against you with the Board of Nurses. Your co-workers may also file a complaint.

If an error occurs or harm is caused to the patient, your supervisor could be held liable for the injury. You can also be held responsible if you failed to follow instructions. Several other factors can make you accountable, like working under drug or alcohol influence. In case you find yourself in a situation where a complaint has been filed against you, promptly seek a defense attorney for legal guidance on the steps to take.

At The Legal Guardian, we have a team of attorneys experienced in handling health care defense cases. When you contact us, we will guide you appropriately on your rights and how to use them to your advantage. We will also represent you legally before the Board of Nurses or the relevant disciplinary board or authority. We are based in Long Beach, California. Reach out to us for quality consultations on matters relating to professional licenses.

Nature of the Complaint

When you are in trouble with the law, it is essential to be keen on the nature of the complaint that has been filed against you to determine possible charges against you. Your attorney will educate you more on the details of your case.

In the United States, legal action takes two forms: criminal or civil. Civil law focuses on disputes between individuals and a private party. An example of civil litigation is when one individual suffers loss or injury due to another individual’s actions. This type is known as a tort case. If you are being sued based on negligence or malpractice, then your lawsuit will be under civil law. Ethic related complaints are also handled under this law.

On the other hand, criminal law protects individuals through state, federal, or local regulations. It includes both misdemeanors (minor offenses) and felonies (major crimes). Examples of cases that are under criminal law in the nursing sector can be: falsifying medical records, stealing medications, and practicing without a license. Felony offenses involve more severe penalties than misdemeanor offenses.

The Role of the Board of Nurses

The Board of Nurses implements disciplinary guidelines that determine actions to take against incompetent nurses or after patients file complaints against them. The board has policies that detail what action should be taken for violating the Nursing Practice Act or the Business and Professions Code. The board’s primary goal is to ensure patients’ safety and that they receive professional medical care.

Common Complaints against Nursing Students

  1. Medical Malpractice

Malpractice can be simply defined as the improper or unethical conduct of a professional. Medical malpractice refers to unethical actions healthcare professionals commit, for example, discharging a patient when they have not fully recovered.

  1. Performing Duties while Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

Drugs and alcohol tamper with the intellectual functioning of consumers. If you perform your duties while impaired, you could harm a patient. You may also fail to follow instructions or standard health care guidelines. Complaints may be made filed against you for the failure of acting professionally and endangering patients’ lives or providing a non-conducive working environment for other hospital employees.

  1. Negligence

Negligence, when used in malpractice, refers to failing to do something. It can be intentional or unintentional failure to act or adhere to the standards of providing health care. It is a patient’s right to treatment free of any type of discrimination. Negligence is categorized into failure to communicate, failure to act as per set standards, and inability to monitor the patient.

Failure to use medical equipment responsibly - You are required to learn how particular medical equipment works before using it on a patient. You should follow the manufacturer's and supervisor's instructions. If you cause harm through poor handling of apparatus, then you will be legally liable for the injury caused.

Failure to assess and monitor the patients’ health and record progress — It is the role of nurses to keep observing the patient's state and recording their improvement. They are then required to communicate any changes in the patient’s health deteriorating to a physician promptly. Failure to look after a patient is viewed as neglect, and if the patients' health deteriorates due to your negligence, you will be held liable.

Failure to follow patient care guidelines and standards — Standard care guidelines are offered by the board of nurses, federal organizations, or nursing associations. They are designed to protect patients from substandard care. If the harm caused to a patient is caused by failure to observe these standard care guidelines, then it leaves you at risk of having a complaint filed against you.

  1. Breaking the Privacy Policy

The legal and ethical guidelines of nursing require that a patient's privacy is preserved. If you discuss the patient’s details with unauthorized personnel or expose their health conditions to any other person apart from the concerned medics without the patient's consent, the patient can file a complaint against you.

  1. Sexual Misconduct

The relationship between a nurse educator, nursing student, medical staff, and patients should be purely professional. It is allowed to have close relationships with colleagues or patients as long as they do not interfere with their well-being, and it is consensual closeness. If you breach professional boundaries and the other party feels threatened or offended, they can file a complaint of sexual misconduct against you.

Possible Liabilities for the Complaint

Student nurses are responsible for their negligent acts. Therefore, you are required to maintain the same work standards supported by licensed nurses as you perform nursing duties. You must understand your knowledge and capability level. If you fail to communicate efficiently what you are capable of handling and cause harm, you will be at risk for legal liability.

Since most work done by nursing students is delegated to them by their nurse educator, who is a licensed nurse, most complaints against a student under their supervision will be on them. Supervisors of nursing students should ensure students do not injure themselves or injure patients. They are held liable in most cases because they have a license; this meaning they are competent enough to work in a hospital environment without causing harm to patients. They must supervise and train the students in performing medical procedures before assigning them to tasks.

They should also ensure they warn nursing students on what can lead to unsafe situations that may endanger patients and student nurses. If your supervisor fails to recognize mistakes you may be making and you cause harm, then he/she will be subject to legal penalties and other disciplinary actions. They can be held liable if they were negligent and did not give you any instructions, fail to provide clear instructions, give misleading instructions, or if they assigned you tasks beyond your skill level.

For the student nurse educator/supervisor to be held liable for your mistake, these requirements must be proved:

  • The supervisor's negligence and failure to give needed guidance led the student nurse to cause harm to a patient

  • The patient was harmed while the student nurse was under their supervision

  • The supervisor failed to adhere to medical standards that other nurse educators with similar qualifications and experience would have adhered to in such a situation

However, if it is proved you had been well trained and guided thoroughly and appropriately before the task was delegated to you, but you still made a mistake, you will be held liable for the harm caused. As a nursing student, it is your responsibility to analyze your skills and capabilities before accepting a task assigned to you. If you do not feel knowledgeable enough to perform it, ask for guidance.

In some cases where the student nurse and their assigned supervisor are part of a training program under a hospital or institution, and harm is caused to a patient under their care, then the hospital is vicariously held liable. It applies especially if the student or intern is recognized as employees of the hospital. Vicarious liability comes into play when a party holds accountability for the negligence of another party. Sometimes a complaint might be filed against you, your supervisor, and the hospital. In such a case, the liability will be placed depending on the extent of blame.

Dos and Don’ts after Being Notified of the Complaint against You

When you are facing a complaint, it is essential to know what to do, or else you will end up giving away evidence against yourself during investigations and giving ground to the case against you. If you know the complainant, it is advisable not to approach them for talks or negotiations without having consulted your attorney.

You should refrain from giving any information on what transpired on the occurrence day, this meaning the day the said complaint happened. You are entitled to remain silent; therefore, you can choose to exercise it to avoid saying statements that can be used against you. Avoid admitting to claims thrown at you without consulting your legal advisor. Remember, accepting makes things easier for your prosecutor and diminishes chances of defending yourself.

The burden of proof is on the state to prove every element of the complaint filed against you. If you make any statement to the board attorney, board representatives, or the investigation crew, whether written or spoken, it can be used against you during the hearings.

It is not advisable to contact the Board of Nurses to seek advice on what to do; they are the ones prosecuting you, so why would you want to give any information, unless required by the law to do so. Also, do not talk to their lawyer or ask for advice from them. The board lawyers work for the board, and they are bound by the law not to give you legal advice. Call your attorney. You have a right to remain silent, meaning that the law has allowed you not to say anything that can be used against you.

You should look for a well-experienced health care attorney to represent you. They are well experienced in finding loopholes in evidence provided against you. They will help weaken proof against you, or if found guilty, negotiate less severe penalties.


The processes followed after a complaint is filed are intake of the claim by the responsible board or authorities, investigation phase, legal action, and probation or penalties. When a complaint is filed against you, you will receive a written notice to inform you within ten days of it being received. The faster you respond to the complaint, the higher your chances of achieving a favorable outcome. You should contact a competent health care professional attorney to represent you every step of the proceeding events.

Next, the investigation determines the complaint’s details, when it happened, who was involved and gathering of evidence and witnesses. Charges can be filed anonymously, which makes it even harder to build a case against you.

Once the department of investigation gathers enough evidence to proceed, a formal accusation is filed. After this, the Board of Investigations will interview you, the complainant, your supervisor or nurse educator, and others who might provide information about the filed complaint. Supposing charges are filed against you, your attorney is notified of the costs, and you can build a solid defense to dispute them during the scheduled administrative hearings.

Possible Outcomes of the Investigation/Hearing

After investigations are done, and there are no witnesses or the evidence against you is weak, the complaint against you is dropped (closed without merit). If the violation was not very serious, no legal action is taken against you, but the offense is included in your records (closed with merit).

If the complaint is concerned with drug or alcohol influence, it is handled with high confidentiality levels. In case you are suffering from drug addiction, you may be required to undergo rehabilitation. For minor offenses, you may be required to pay a fine. You may be required to compensate the complainant or do community service depending on your case’s nature or severity.

If severe penalties are taken for disciplinary reasons, that may lead to discontinuation of your education; your lawyer will help you file appeals or negotiate for milder penalties.

The severity of the disciplinary measures taken if you are found guilty of the offenses depends on:

  • The severity of the offense

  • Class of the complaint

  • What harm was inflicted on the patient

  • Previous disciplinary actions on your record

Importance of Nursing Students Liability Insurance

Student nurses often have liability insurance coverage provided by the school where they are studying, the same way that hospitals have insurance covers for their employees. However, this insurance may have limitations in some situations, such as if you are expelled from the school.

In respect to that, students should acquire personal liability insurance. This insurance is inexpensive, and it helps a great deal when you have to pay a settlement. It will also pay for your legal defense. Before signing with an insurance company, ensure that they provide you with the freedom to have the attorney of your choice represent you and that they will cover this.

Contacting a Health Care Professional Attorney

It is in your best interest to talk to a legal advisor if you are a nursing student who is facing legal complaints. Facing the board of nurses or any other investigation board without a lawyer can minimize your chances of defending yourself appropriately; you may even say some statements that will end up being used to incriminate you. Promptly contact a lawyer who is experienced in representing nurses against the Board of Nurses.

If you cannot reach one, contact the American Health Lawyers Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA), the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA), or your state bar association. They will refer you to such an attorney if you visit their website or call their line. Do not forget to ask how many cases the attorney has handled before the Board of Nurses to be sure that they are well experienced with such situations.

Find a Healthcare Professional License Defense Attorney Near Me

Whether you are a licensed health care professional or a student nurse in Long Beach, California, facing legal problems, and you need professional and experienced legal consultation or representation, The Legal Guardian has you covered. We have in-depth experience and knowledge and are committed to defend you against severe disciplinary actions. For more information, contact us at 888-293-0396.