What is Battery in Nursing? (With Examples, Consequences, & How to Prevent)

Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA

When people think of nurses, they typically think of someone who is caring, compassionate, and willing to help heal, and this assumption is true most of the time. However, there are instances when nurses are involved in situations that cause physical harm to patients, whether it is intentional or unintentional, something known as battery. You may have heard the word battery but wonder, “What is battery in nursing?”

Battery in nursing is a major offense that can lead to profound consequences. In this article, I will share information with you about battery in nursing. You will learn how battery differs from assault and negligence and find examples of battery in nursing. As you read on, you will also find out what the consequences could be for a nurse who commits battery and ways to prevent it from occurring.

What Exactly Is Battery In Nursing?

Battery in nursing is the actual, willful touching of a patient without consent that may or may not result in harm. Any type of touching that a patient considers harmful, or offensive can be considered as battery, even if the action does not result in harm.

Battery VS. Assault In Nursing: What’s The Difference?

Assault and battery are both types of intentional tort. Intentional torts are the result of an intentional act that someone carries out while fully aware of their actions and the wishes of the person to whom the action is directed. Assault is a type of intentional tort that involves intentionally causing a patient to reasonably assume he or she is in imminent danger or risk of harmful or offensive contact by a nurse. In simple terms, assault occurs when you threaten to carry out any action that could cause harm or offend your patient. Battery is an intentional tort that results in harmful or offensive contact with a patient without the patient’s consent. Battery occurs when you actually carry out the action.

Battery VS. Negligence In Nursing: What’s The Difference?

Battery in nursing is an intentional act that results in a patient being harmed or assuming they are in danger or at risk of harm or offensive contact. Negligence in nursing is the failure of a nurse to behave with the level of care a nurse with the same training and prudence would exercise under the same circumstances.

What Are The Most Common Examples Of Battery In Nursing?

(The following are the 10 most common examples of battery in nursing.)

Example #1: Administering Medication Although Patient Refuses

One of the most common occurrences of battery in nursing is when a nurse administers medication despite a patient's refusal. Settings such as nursing homes or long-term rehabilitation facilities are common places where this type of battery occurs because there is often less oversight of nursing staff. Unfortunately, the patients who fall victim to this battery are usually those with no family or loved ones who rarely visit or those who are nonverbal.

Keep in mind, however, that a patient who is nonverbal can refuse medication by shaking his head, placing his hand over his mouth, writing, or signing. Any indication that the patient does not want to take medication should be considered a refusal and documented as such. Forcing medication despite the patient's apparent wishes for the medication to be withheld is battery in nursing.

Example #2: Pushing a Patient

In nursing, it is common to have several patients you must care for during your shift. On a busy day, it is easy to feel rushed and subsequently rush others, including patients. I have seen nurses rushing through the day, growing impatient with patients and pushing them to try and hurry them along. On more than one occasion, when a nurse pushed a patient, I saw the patient lose their balance and stumble or fall, which meant the nurse was at fault. It is crucial to bear in mind that even if you do not intend harm, pushing a patient is an intentional act, and if it results in harm, you can be held liable for battery in nursing.

Example #3: Pulling a Patient

Another act of battery in nursing may occur if you pull a patient and the action results in harm. At times, it may be necessary for nurses to reposition a patient in their bed or chair, which could require using proper technique. If you move a patient by pulling them and doing so causes them harm, you could be held liable for battery.

Example #4: Obtaining a Finger Stick Blood Sugar Without Patient Consent

Obtaining a finger stick blood sugar does not usually result in major injury. However, serious injury does not have to occur for performing the finger stick to be classified as battery. If a patient is competent enough to consent to a treatment and declines to consent for you to perform a fingerstick blood sugar check, and you proceed and do so anyway, this is enough to classify as battery in nursing.

Example #5: Poking a Patient In a “Joking” Way

In a facility where I used to work, one family had a private nurse who spent several hours each day with one of their parents. One day, I walked into the client's room and saw the nurse poking the lady in her ribs. She was not being forceful or acting violently, but the client clearly did not want to be touched. The nurse said she was "just playing." However, because the client told her to stop, the sitter's behavior crossed the line from being appropriate to being inappropriate and an example of battery in nursing.

It is vital to remember that whether your actions are meant to cause harm or not, if a patient does not give you permission to touch them or ask you to stop, ignoring them could result in serious consequences, including an accusation of battery.

Example #6: Grabbing a Patient’s Arm to Keep Them from Walking Away from You

It can be frustrating when you try to talk to a patient, and they ignore you and walk away. Even if what you have to say is important, or if you feel the patient is acting inappropriately, if you touch them to stop them from walking away from you, it is considered battery. The best thing to do in this situation is to allow them to walk away and check on them later.

Example #7: Restraining a Patient Without Cause

If you have been a nurse for any length of time, chances are you have encountered an aggressive patient. Depending on the circumstances, it may be in the patient’s best interest for a physician to order restraints in order to protect the patient and others. While there are justifiable reasons for using restraints, it is crucial that guidelines for restraint administration are followed closely. If a patient poses no threat to themselves or others, the use of restraints could constitute a complaint of battery in nursing. Even if the patient is agitated or aggressive, if they are competent, understand instructions, and refuse treatment, the use of restraints should be avoided.

Example #8: Resuscitating a Patient Who Has a “Do Not Resuscitate” Order

A day in the life of a nurse can be quite eventful. Every patient is unique and has different needs and expectations. One expectation a patient should have is the right to choose whether they want an attempt to save their life if needed. Regardless of whether we agree with the patient's choice, it is our legal obligation as nurses to uphold those wishes. A "Do Not Resuscitate" (DNR) order is a legal document verifying a patient's wishes to have life-saving efforts withheld in the event they stop breathing or their heart stops. If your patient has a DNR order and you are aware of the order, but you perform CPR to resuscitate them anyway, you could be guilty of committing battery in nursing.

I remember working a prn weekend shift at a hospital years ago. Sometime in the middle of the shift, one of the patients assigned to another nurse coded, and the patient's care team initiated CPR. After the chaos of the moment settled, a family member of the patient questioned why CPR was given. One of the nurses discovered that the patient had a "Do Not Resuscitate" order that had been overlooked. Although the family did not seek a reprimand or legal action because the legal ramifications of giving CPR to a patient with a DNR order are so complex, the nurse could have been accused of, or charged with, battery in nursing.

Example #9: Failure to Acknowledge Revocation of Consent

Something many nurses fail to realize is that a patient giving consent does not strip their right to revoke consent later. For example, if Mr. Jones gives permission for you to apply an automatic blood pressure cuff for continuous blood pressure monitoring but later complains of pain and asks that it be removed, he is revoking consent. You may feel the patient needs continued monitoring and believe the blood pressure cuff should remain in place. However, if you are aware that the patient has revoked consent and you do not comply, you are guilty of committing battery in nursing.

Example #10: Pulling a Patient’s Hair

Any type of action that causes injury or offensive contact is considered battery. In nursing, pulling a patient’s hair is considered battery in nursing. If a nurse intentionally pulls a patient’s hair in anger or to force them to look at them, this is battery. Even if the act of hurting your patient is unintentional, it may be considered battery. For instance, if you are brushing a patient’s hair and they complain that it hurts and ask you to stop, but you continue brushing their hair, pulling it, you could be accused of battery.

5 Potential Consequences For Nurses Involved In Battery

Battery in nursing is an issue that should never be taken lightly. A nurse who commits battery can face dire consequences. The following are five potential consequences for nurses involved in battery.

Consequence #1: Suspension from Your Job

The mildest consequence you could experience if you are involved in battery in nursing is you could be suspended from your job. In most cases, if you are accused of battery, you will be suspended from your job pending a review of any evidence to determine if the battery occurred, after which a final determination about your employment status is made.

Consequence #2: Termination of Employment

While there may be some instances where nurses involved in an act of battery may not lose their jobs, it has been my experience that most nurses do. Keep in mind that battery is an intentional act. Therefore, you will be held accountable for the act as if you meant to cause harm, even if true harm was not your intent.

Consequence #3: Disciplinary Action from the Board of Nursing

Another frightening consequence of battery in nursing is that the Board of Nursing will be notified of the situation, which means you could face disciplinary action, such as a temporary license suspension. If your license is suspended, you may not work in any capacity that requires an active nursing license, which means loss of income, as well.

Consequence #4: Loss of Nursing License

Depending on the nature of the incident, if you are guilty of battery in nursing, your nursing license could be permanently revoked. Once your license is revoked in one state, you may not become licensed in another, which means you will be left to find a new career path.

Consequence #5: Criminal Charges, Fines, and Possible Imprisonment

As if termination from your job or loss of your nursing license were not enough, battery in nursing can have serious legal consequences, as well. If you are accused of battery, you could face criminal charges that could result in fines and possible jail time. The amount of money and length of incarceration varies, depending on the nature of the crime and whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or felony.

Bonus! 5 Things Nurses Can Do To Prevent Getting Involved In Battery

As a nurse, you can make a difference when it comes to battery in nursing. Although you cannot control another nurse’s or a patient’s behavior and actions, you can take steps to help prevent cases of battery and to prevent being personally involved in issues involving battery in nursing. The following are five things all nurses can do to help prevent the occurrence of battery in nursing.

Thing #1: Provide Accurate and Thorough Patient Education

Patient education is an essential part of every nurse’s job. Providing accurate and thorough patient education allows opportunities for patients to ask questions if they do not understand the treatment or recommended plan of care and to accept or deny treatment, which can reduce the risk of accusations of battery if you perform a treatment.

Thing #2: Obtain Consent Before Any Treatment or Procedure

It is crucial that nurses obtain consent before performing any treatment or procedure on a patient. Failure to do so could result in an accusation of battery in nursing. Some treatments or procedures require written or informed consent, while with others, implied or expressed consent may suffice. Keep in mind that consent to treatment is only valid if your patient is properly educated on the reason, risks, and expected outcomes.

Thing #3: Work With Leaders to Prioritize Nurse Safety When Providing Patient Care

When nurses are subjected to situations where their safety is at risk, the need to defend themselves becomes essential. In some cases, if you must defend yourself, your defensive action could result in unintentional harm to the patient. For example, if you are providing care to a patient who is combative, you may need to block a hit or nudge them away from you. When this happens, if any harm comes to the patient, this could be considered battery.

One way to help prevent instances of battery in nursing is to work with nurse leaders and managers to put measures in place for dealing with potential risks to your safety. For instance, you may suggest that nurses take another team member with them when caring for aggressive or confused patients. Sometimes, this method is effective because one nurse can talk to the patient and calm them in ways the others may not.

Thing #4: Never Coerce a Patient to Consent to Treatment

One of the simplest ways to prevent battery in nursing is to never coerce a patient to consent to treatment. If a patient states he does not wish to receive treatment, even if it could save their life, you must honor their right to choose.

Thing #5: Deliver Compassionate and Empathetic Care

One of the most essential steps in reducing the risk of being involved in battery in nursing is to provide compassionate, empathetic care to all patients. When we approach patients with a calm, compassionate attitude and empathize with them, the tone of the nurse-patient relationship is better. Stress levels are decreased, which reduces the risk of both nurses and patients becoming victims of battery in nursing.

My Final Thoughts

In this article, I shared information with you to answer a common question, “What is battery in nursing?” As a nurse, it is your responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of patients, which includes doing your part to prevent battery in nursing when the situation is within your control. With proper education and by following guidelines to protect patient rights and perform ethically, it is possible to reduce the risk of battery in nursing, protecting patients and yourself from the effects of the consequences of nursing battery.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered By Our Expert

1. Can Battery Occur Even When The Nurse Has Good Intentions?

Unfortunately, battery in nursing can occur even when a nurse has good intentions. A nurse does not need to intend a specific harm resulting from unwanted contact for it to be considered battery. Instead, if you intend to commit any act of unwanted contact, this is enough to constitute battery.

2. How Should Nurses Handle Situations Where A Patient Refuses Treatment?

It is within a patient’s right to refuse treatment, even if we feel the treatment is necessary. Therefore, if a patient refuses treatment, the nurse must comply with the patient’s wishes. Otherwise, if you force a patient to accept treatment, you could be guilty of battery in nursing. When this occurs, it is crucial that you document the event, including anything the patient says about why they are refusing treatment, any education you provided, and who you notified of the patient’s refusal.

3. Can A Nurse Be Wrongly Accused Of Battery?

Unfortunately, like any crime, it is possible to be wrongly accused of battery in nursing.

4. What Can A Nurse Do If She Is Wrongly Accused Of Battery?

Being wrongly accused of battery in nursing can be a frightening experience. The first step is to talk to an attorney who is experienced in representing healthcare professionals. Chances are, your State Board of Nursing will be notified of the complaint. You should receive copies of any complaints or documentation, which you should provide to your legal representative.

5. Can A Nurse Get A Nursing License With A Battery Misdemeanor?

In some cases, it is possible to get a nursing license if you have a misdemeanor battery charge. If you have a misdemeanor battery charge or conviction, you are required to disclose that information to your state Board of Nursing. Each state’s laws vary, and the decision to issue a license is determined by your Board of Nursing.

6. Can A Nurse Practice Nursing With A Battery Charge Pending?

While there may be instances when a nurse can practice with a pending battery charge, many states temporarily suspend the right of nurses to practice until the case is resolved. Because each state's laws vary, it is essential that you speak with a representative from your State Board of Nursing if you have a pending battery charge.

7. What Should A Nurse Do If Faced With Serious Allegations Of Battery?

A nurse who is faced with serious allegations of battery should seek legal advice from an attorney who is experienced in handling these types of cases. It is crucial to have legal counsel before talking to anyone else about the case to ensure your rights are protected.

Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).