By: Patrice L. Spath
Brown-Spath & Associates


Another liability concern relates to negligent training. Negligence is generally defined as conduct that falls below the standard of care that is necessary to protect others against exposure to an unreasonable risk of foreseeable injury. Most negligence falls in the unintentional category, such as an intraoperative injury to a patient. Deliberate infliction of emotional distress is an example of intentional negligence. Injuries or damages resulting from improper training could be a source of litigation. For example, in Stacy v. Truman Medical Center (1992), the Center had a legal duty to instruct its nurses in the correct performance of their work. Although the Center had a policy on fire evacuation procedures, the nurse in this instance was not trained on the policy. The nurse's breach of a duty was failing to remove the patient from a room on fire. The proximate causal link between the death of the patient and the legal duty to adequately train the nurse on fire evacuation policy was argued successfully before a trial court.

Public-sector trainers have an additional source of litigation for which they must be concerned. Negligent acts in publicly operated utilities, hospitals, and social services may also be subject to civil rights laws. What would ordinarily be a negligence action in a state court may become a civil rights case in federal district court. The civil rights claim arises when a law or a policy is not adhered to by the governmental entity and a death or injury results. For example, if admitting staff are expected to triage emergency patients but do not receive adequate training to make these judgements, a question of negligence could be raised if a patient is harmed by inappropriate triaging. The hospital could be held in liable for violating the civil rights of the harmed patient. For instance, hearing a case similar to this healthcare example the Supreme Court held that:

         The inadequacy of the training may serve as the basis for liability only where the failure to train in a relevant respect amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons with whom the defendant came in contact.

         The focus must be on whether the training program was adequate to the task the particular employee must perform.

         The identified deficiency in the training program must be closely related to the ultimate injury.

Protecting yourself from the potential liabilities of staff training can be easy if a few simple steps are taken to reduce risk. Remember, to be ignorant of any law or significant court decision that affects one's job is to invite trouble. Work with your risk management department to develop comprehensive operational policies and procedures for employee training that minimize your liability exposure.

1998 Brown-Spath & Associates.