Utah Supreme Court rules that doctors can be sued for actions of their patients
March 3, 2012
Utah’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that lawyers can pursue a lawsuit seeking to hold doctors responsible for the actions of a man who fatally shot his wife while under their care.
The justices said medical providers need to consider the consequences of the drugs they prescribe and the broader impact a patient’s treatment may have on a family.
The ruling overturned a lower court decision and allows a lawsuit by the children of Kristy and David Ragsdale to proceed against the medical providers who prescribed antidepressants to the children’s father.
Kristy Ragsdale, 30, was gunned down by her husband outside a Lehi church in 2008 in front of the two children, ages 4 and 19 months at the time.
David Ragsdale pleaded guilty to the murder and is serving a life sentence. He claimed he would not have shot his wife if he hadn’t been taking a mixture of psychotropic drugs.
Justice Thomas Lee, who wrote the court’s opinion, said considering the dangers of a prescription or treatment should be part of a doctor’s analysis.
“Even if a doctor’s loyalty is only to her patient, the patient’s welfare encompasses an interest in minimizing a risk of causing harm to third parties,” Lee wrote. “A physician concerned about her patient presumably would be interested in weighing that risk along with other concerns more directly personal to the patient’s welfare.”
The children’s conservator sued their father’s medical providers, but a state judge threw out the case in January 2010. The appeal was argued before justices in November.
Following the Utah Supreme Court ruling, Tyler Young, an attorney representing Ragsdale’s children, told The Daily Herald of Provo the decision sets a precedent for future cases.
“I think this case makes Utahns safer,” Young said.
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