The Utah Supreme Court ruled last month that health care providers have a duty to consider how the treatment of a patient may affect the family of the patient. The Supreme Court’s decision reversed a third district judge’s ruling that medical malpractice suits could not be sought by third parties, and opens the door to the number of malpractice lawsuits brought against physicians.
The high court’s ruling is in response to a suit brought on behalf of the children of David and Kristy Ragsdale. David Ragsdale shot his wife Kristy to death in a church parking lot in 2008 while heavily medicated. The two Ragsdale children were 4 years and 19 months old at the time. After Kristy’s death, David Ragsdale was convicted of murder.
The suit filed on behalf of the Ragsdale children alleges that a nurse practitioner and her consulting physician were negligent when prescribing six medications to David, including anti-depressants and steroids. The suit claims these medications contributed to David’s actions when he shot his wife.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, while Ragsdale has pleaded to first-degree murder and taken responsibility for her death, he has also said that he would not have murdered her had it not been for the medications he was on.
Justice Thomas Lee wrote for the Utah Supreme Court, “Health care providers perform a societal function of undoubted social utility. But they are not entitled to an elevated status in tort law that would categorically immunize them from liability when their negligent prescriptions cause physical injury to non-patients. We uphold a duty of healthcare providers to non-patients in the affirmative act of prescribing medication.”