Utah SC: Nurse practitioner can be held liable in murder

John O'Brien Mar. 5, 2012, 12:00pm


SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) - Those who prescribe medications can be held liable for the actions of their patients, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled.

In a case involving the 2008 murder of Kristy Ragsdale by her husband David, the court found Tuesday that nurse practitioner Trina West owed a duty to exercise reasonable care when prescribing medications that pose a risk of injury to third parties.

David Ragsdale shot his wife while on six medications, which included Valium and testosterone.

"Health care providers perform a societal function of undoubted social utility," Justice Thomas Lee wrote.

"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."

Defendants West, Hugo Rodier and Pioneer Comprehensive Medical Clinic argued that the case involved "highly complex and incompletely understood possible interactions of pharmacology, general human behavior, personality traits and troubled marital relations."

The defendants also argued that imposing a duty on physicians to nonpatients is bad public policy and will diminish the availability of prescription drugs.

"This argument gives undue emphasis to the benefits of prescription drugs as a whole while ignoring their costs," Lee wrote.

Ragsdale pleaded guilty to the murder in 2008 after shooting his wife multiple times at a church parking lot in Lehi.

He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, and is not eligible for parole until 2038. The murder left behind two orphaned sons, who sued the defendants. Kristy's mother, who was present at the murder scene, received custody of the children following the murder.

West prescribed Concerta, Valium, Doxepin, Paxil, pregnenolone and testosterone, all of which were in his system at the time of the murder. Rodier was West's consulting physician.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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