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Judge dismisses lawsuit against convicted killer David Ragsdale's doctor, nurse

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 12:14 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A 3rd District judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit alleging that David Ragsdale's medications caused him to murder his wife outside an LDS meetinghouse in Lehi in 2008.

The court-appointed financial representative of Ragsdale's children filed the medical malpractice suit in April against a doctor and nurse at Pioneer Comprehensive Medical Clinic in Draper.

Judge Denise Lindberg ruled that because the children were not patients at the clinic, they could not sue for malpractice.

Ragsdale, 38, shot his wife 13 times in the parking lot of their church on Jan. 6, 2008. The couple had just separated following allegations he had an affair, and he was reportedly angry over the amount of support money she was requesting.

He pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and is serving 20 years to life in the Utah State Prison with no chance for parole until 2036.

The lawsuit alleged that a nurse practitioner, Trina West, improperly prescribed steroids and other drugs without consulting her supervisor, Dr. Hugo Rodier. Ragsdale said at his sentencing that he would not have killed his wife if he had not been on the medications.

West's attorney, Stephen Owens, argued Monday that Ragsdale's plea showed he had taken responsibility for his actions. If the lawsuit succeeded, Owens said, it could put his conviction in doubt.

Generally, in malpractice cases, the defendant must owe a duty to the plaintiff, Owens said. He cited the cases of parents suing a school district after their child was struck in a crosswalk and the LDS Church being sued when a member abused a child. In those cases, he said, there could be no malpractice because the defendant did not have "custody or control" of the injured party.

Only Ragsdale could allege malpractice, and he actually said the drugs had made him feel better than he had in 10 years, Owens said.

"Mr. Ragsdale is nowhere to be seen in this suit," he said. "It's a real stretch to say that because his kids are unhappy, they can sue."

In addition, he said, there has already been a chilling effect on West's willingness to treat troubled patients, and the lawsuit could cause medical providers to reject similar cases.

"I guarantee that's what my client thinks now when a troubled guy with marital problems walks into her office," Owens said.

Jonah Orlofsky, the attorney arguing the case for the children's representative, argued that unlike in the cases Owens cited, Ragsdale's medical providers did not simply fail to warn others of the potential for harm, but actually caused the harm by prescribing the wrong medications.

He compared the situation to a case in which the Utah Supreme Court held a car dealership liable for injuries that occurred after the dealership left the keys in a car, leading to the theft of the car and a high-speed police chase.

In her ruling, Lindberg cited a different Utah Supreme Court case involving a Salt Lake police officer who shot a motorist and was later fired for being mentally unstable. The officer's malpractice suit against a psychiatrist who provided an independent medical evaluation was dismissed because there was no doctor-patient relationship.

The judge agreed with the defense that the representative of Ragsdale's children cannot sue on their behalf because the children were not patients.

"The children do not stand in their father's shoes." Lindberg said. "Notably, Mr. Ragsdale isn't here."

Attorneys for the children's representative, William Jeffs, said they plan to appeal the ruling. The children now live with relatives in Washington state.

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com

Twitter: pbkdn

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