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Is It a Felony to Hit or Assault a Nurse?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Caring for those in need can be a dangerous proposition. According to one recent study, almost 80 percent of nurses reported they were attacked while on the job in the past year. And health care workers overall are subject to more workplace violence and missed more work due to workplace assaults than any other profession.

Assaulting anyone is a crime, but assaulting certain people can mean increased criminal charges and penalties. Do these protections apply to nurses?

Statutory Protections for Medical Professionals

As Lisa Wolf -- registered nurse and research director for the Emergency Nurses Association -- told Scientific American, "There is a top-to-bottom cultural assumption that violence is part of the job. It goes from the bedside up to the judicial system." And some states are trying to address the danger to nurses with specific statutes designating penalties for assaulting nurses.

A majority of states have criminal statutes specifically addressing assaults on emergency medical providers, and 32 (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) make it a felony to assault a health care worker or emergency medical personnel.

An Ounce of Prevention...

Additionally, seven states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington) require health care employers to implement workplace violence prevention programs. These training programs are aimed at nurses and medical staff, teaching them how to recognize and respond to potentially violent situations, hopefully deescalating dangerous assaults before they occur.

Any assault can become a felony under certain circumstances, and felony assault can be punished by long prison terms and hefty fines. Hopefully these laws can serve as another deterrent to people thinking about assaulting nurses. Scientific American also reported that over half the physical assaults on nurses go unreported. Maybe knowing there are enhanced penalties for perpetrators will encourage more nurses to come forward to protect themselves.

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