In 2010, Amaya Gullate was three years old. Medical professionals at Carolinas Medical Center, now Atrium health recommended a procedure for her heart condition.
“They gave her anesthesia, which was the biggest danger she had,” John Edwards, the attorney representing the family said. “Her heart stopped as a result of the anesthesia. She ended up being without oxygen and blood to her brain for about 12 or 13 minutes.”
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Gullate left with permanent brain damage, cerebral palsy, and developmental delays.
Edwards sued the hospital, three doctors, and the certified registered nurse anesthetist. Action against the nurse was blocked by Byrd v. Marion General Hospital, a ruling protecting nurses working under a doctor’s supervision. Twelve years later, the state Supreme Court handed down a 41-page opinion that says nurses can be held legally liable.
“The short version is, every single one of us, including you and me, we’re legally responsible for what we do,” Edwards said. “What the North Carolina Supreme Court said, Friday, was, we’re going to do the same thing for all healthcare providers treat them all exactly the same.”
The ruling passed a 3-2 majority. Justice Tamara Barringer, a dissenting justice said the court overreached in its opinion.
“In judicially changing this standard, the three-justice majority appears to create liability without causation — allowing a nurse to be held liable for negligent collaboration in the treatment ultimately chosen by the physician. Such a policy choice should be made by the legislature, not merely three Justices of this Court,” Justice Barringer wrote.
Ashley Hughes, critical care nurse, and legal nurse consultant agrees legislators should have been a part of changing the law of the land.
“None of the judges are in the healthcare arena. So that’s very dangerous to me,” Hughes said. “To make decisions, especially about the standards of care without going through the due processes of going through the General Assembly.”
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Hughes says nurses want to provide adequate care for patients and this ruling will make the national nurse shortage even worse.
“They’re already short-staffed. On top of that, there is the issue of violence against nurses, nurses are being attacked. There’s the issues about the pay nurses not being paid appropriately,” Hughes said. “Along with that, criminally, nurses now are being held more on a criminal level, rather than just civil.”
For Gullate, the impacts of her procedure affect her entire family, and Edwards plans to take her case back to trial. “She’s now 15 years old, and she has to be taken care of 24/7,” Edwards said. “Her mom, her grandparents, they spend their whole lives taking care of her. So, this was going to go on for a long time for her, she needed help.”