V Glossary

Administrative law: Law made by government agencies that have been granted the authority to pass rules and regulations. For example, each state’s Board of Nursing is an example of administrative law.

Advanced directives: Written instruction, such as a living will or durable power of attorney for health care, recognized under state law, relating to the provision of health care when the individual is incapacitated.

Assault: Intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.[1]

Battery: Intentional causation of harmful or offensive contact with another’s person without that person’s consent.[2]

Capacity: A functional determination that an individual is or is not capable of making a medical decision within a given situation.

Civil law: Law focusing on the rights, responsibilities, and legal relationships between private citizens.

Commission: Doing something a reasonable nurse would not have done.[3]

Competence: In a legal sense, the ability of an individual to participate in legal proceedings. A judge decides if an individual is “competent” or “incompetent.”

Confidentiality: The right of an individual to have personal, identifiable medical information kept private.

Constitutional law: The rights, privileges, and responsibilities established by the U.S. Constitution. For example, the right to privacy is a right established by the constitution.

Contracts: Binding written, verbal, or implied agreements.

Crime: A type of behavior defined by Congress or state legislature as deserving of punishment.

Criminal law: A system of laws concerned with punishment of individuals who commit crimes.

Culture of safety: Culture that embraces error reporting by employees with the goal of identifying root causes of problems so they may be addressed to improve patient safety.

Defamation of character: An act of making negative, malicious, and false remarks about another person to damage their reputation. Slander is spoken defamation and libel is written defamation.

Defendants: The parties named in a lawsuit.

Durable power of attorney for healthcare: Person chosen to speak on one’s behalf if one becomes incapacitated.

Duty of reasonable care: Legal obligations nurses have to their patients to adhere to current standards of practice.

Ethics: A system of moral principles that a society uses to identify right from wrong.

False imprisonment: An act of restraining another person causing that person to be confined in a bounded area. Restraints can be physical, verbal, or chemical.

Felonies: Serious crimes that cause the perpetrator to be imprisoned for greater than one year.

Fraud: An act of deceiving an individual for personal gain.

Good Samaritan Law: State law providing protections against negligence claims to individuals who render aid to people experiencing medical emergencies outside of clinical environments.

Informed consent: The fundamental right of a client to accept or reject health care.

Infractions: Minor offenses, such as speeding tickets, that result in fines but not jail time.

Intentional tort: An act of commission with the intent of harming or causing damage to another person. Examples of intentional torts include assault, battery, false imprisonment, slander, libel, and breach of privacy or client confidentiality.

Laws: Rules and regulations created by society and enforced by courts, statutes, and/or professional licensure boards.

Libel: Written defamation.

Living will: A type of advance directive in which an individual identifies what treatments they would like to receive or refuse if they become incapacitated and unable to make decisions.

Malpractice: A specific term used for negligence committed by a professional with a license.

Misdemeanors: Less serious crimes resulting in fines and/or imprisonment for less than one year.

Negligence: The failure to exercise the ordinary care a reasonable person would use in similar circumstances. Wisconsin civil jury instruction states, “A person is not using ordinary care and is negligent, if the person, without intending to do harm, does something (or fails to do something) that a reasonable person would recognize as creating an unreasonable risk of injury or damage to a person or property.”[4]

Omission: Not doing something a reasonable nurse would have done.[5]

Plaintiff: The person bringing the lawsuit.

Private law: Laws that govern the relationships between private entities.

Protected Health Information (PHI): Individually identifiable health information and includes demographic data related to the individual’s past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition; the provision of health care to the individual; and the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual.

Public law: Law regulating relations of individuals with the government or institutions.

Slander: Spoken defamation.

Statutory law: Written laws enacted by the federal or state legislature. For example, the Nurse Practice Act in each state is an example of statutory law that is enacted by the state government.

Tort: An act of commission or omission that causes injury or harm to another person for which the courts impose liability. In the context of torts, “injury” describes the invasion of any legal right, whereas “harm” describes a loss or detriment the individual suffers. Torts are classified as intentional or unintentional.

Unintentional tort: Acts of omission (not doing something a person has a responsibility to do) or inadvertently doing something causing unintended accidents leading to injury, property damage, or financial loss. Examples of unintentional torts impacting nurses include negligence and malpractice.

  1. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.) Cornell Law School. https://www.law.cornell.edu
  2. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.) Cornell Law School. https://www.law.cornell.edu
  3. Brous, E. (2019). The elements of a nursing malpractice case, Part 2: Breach. American Journal of Nursing, 119(9), 42–46. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NAJ.0000580256.10914.2e
  4. Wis. JI—Civil 1005. (2016). https://wilawlibrary.gov/jury/civil/instruction.php?n=1005
  5. Brous, E. (2019). The elements of a nursing malpractice case, Part 2: Breach. American Journal of Nursing, 119(9), 42–46. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NAJ.0000580256.10914.2e


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