Posted Feb 29, 2012 06:00 pm CST
The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that physicians have a duty to their patients’ family members in a case brought on behalf of the children of a confessed murderer.
The ruling “could have a widespread effect on the number of malpractice lawsuits filed against health care providers,” the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The decision reverses a lower court judge who ruled medical malpractice suits could not be pursued by third parties.
The suit alleges a nurse practitioner and her consulting physician were negligent in 2007 when prescribing six medications to David Ragsdale, including antidepressants and steroids. Ragsdale shot and killed his wife in January 2008 and later pleaded guilty to murder. The suit was filed on behalf of the Ragsdales’ two children, who were 4 and 19 months old at the time of the murder, the Salt Lake Tribune says.
“Health care providers perform a societal function of undoubted social utility,” the Utah Supreme Court said. “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 nonpatients.”