Legal Case Study: Distraction by Cell Phone

Hand-held devices can be useful tools for nurses and other health-care practitioners. They can be used to communicate about patient care in certain circumstances as long as the right security measures are in place to ensure patient confidentiality. However, when used for a personal purpose, hand-held devices can also distract from the provision of care.

This potential risk is demonstrated in recent litigation involving a physician who is facing a civil claim alleging that he was talking on his cell phone during a procedure.1 According to reports, the patient in question was getting surgery to remove varicose veins under local anesthesia. The patient alleged that she was able to hear the physician making a phone call during her procedure, speaking in Spanish. In particular, the patient alleged that she heard the physician say he suffered from blurred vision, which caused her concern for her safety while the surgery was ongoing. The patient reportedly asked the physician after the surgery what he had been doing during her procedure. According to reports, the physician indicated that he had been taking a language proficiency examination in Spanish and explained that this was the only time he was available to complete the test.

This case is still ongoing, and the outcome is unknown. However, it is a helpful reminder for all health-care practitioners that they should not let their use of personal hand-held devices, such as cell phones, affect patient care or be perceived to affect patient care. Nurses should be cautious about using their cell phones while at work and should avoid any distractions that might place patient safety at risk. Nurses are also encouraged to consult their employer’s policies or any practice standards issued by their nursing regulator (College or Association) regarding the safe use of personal hand-held devices at work.

For more information on hand-held devices, read our infoLAW on Mobile Devices in the Workplace. CNPS beneficiaries who have questions about this issue can call 1-844-4MY-CNPS (1-844-469-2677) to speak to one of our legal advisors, who are lawyers.


1.  “Woman sues surgeon, claiming he took Spanish test on phone while operating”, CBS News: December 7, 2017 ( Schroeder, Jessa, “Patient, 70, sues New York city doctor who ‘took a Spanish test on his cell phone DURING her varicose vein surgery”, Daily Mail: December 7, 2017 ( Bandler, Jonathon, “Port Chester woman sues surgeon who took Spanish test on cellphone while operating”, Lohud: December 6, 2017 (


Published May 2018