One of the nurses I work with dealt with that issue. She was overloaded on an assignment, and there was some kind of "bad result". She didn't say what it was, but she said that the legal dept talked to her, and she told the legal dept about how many patients she had, and she wasn't supposed to according to floor guidelines. The legal department told her that in that case... she should have contacted the supervisor, and told them that she felt the assignment was unsafe prior to accepting it, and then maybe even go a step higher. Also, that she needed to document who she called and spoke with and what they said... not in the patient's notes, just for her own record...so that if she was ever taken to court, she could defend herself, and say I contacted this supervisor, and that supervisor, and told them I felt staffing was unsafe and that I didn't feel the assignment was within safe nursing standards, etc.
As staff nurses we can't stop call up other nurse's and get them on the floor. We can't adjust staffing guidelines, etc., but we do need to speak up for ourselves.
I don't have a legal background, and I don't know how that would all play out. I'm just relating what a coworker told me. I don't think anything ever came of her instance, but I know it encouraged people to speak up, and call the supervisor in those issues, and sometimes they did give us more staff, or stop an admission. Although staffing really hasn't improved overall.
We are our patient's advocate!!! Ask yourself, if you would want a family member being taken care of by a nurse with the same assignment you have?