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Family of mentally ill Ga. killer can sue psychiatrist, says state Supreme Court

Mental Illness around the world. Caduceus over a globe and a man holding his hands over his face AP

(CBS/AP) ATLANTA - The family of a man who stabbed his mother to death in a psychotic rage is permitted to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against his psychiatrist, based on a unanimous ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court.

The ruling allows Victor Bruscato's father to sue his son's psychiatrist, Dr. Derek Johnson O'Brien, for discontinuing his anti-psychotic medication shortly before Bruscato stabbed his mother to death in 2002.

State law bans a criminal's family from profiting from wrongdoing in court, but the lawsuit touched off a debate over whether an exception can be made if a mentally ill suspect wasn't aware of what he was doing.

Bruscato was assigned in 2001 to Dr. O'Brien's community health center in Gwinnett County, and expert witnesses testified that anti-psychotic drugs he was prescribed were helping him manage violent tendencies and sexual impulses.

That changed in May 2002 after O'Brien discontinued two of his powerful medications to make sure Bruscato wasn't developing a dangerous syndrome, according to court records. He began having nightmares and claimed the devil was ordering him to do bad deeds, records show.

The behavior turned violent in August 2002, when police say he attacked his mother Lillian Lynn Bruscato in the head with a battery charger and then stabbed her 72 times. He was charged with the murder months later, but was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to a state mental institution.

His father Vito then sued O'Brien for medical malpractice, claiming that the doctor's negligence caused his son to become psychotic and kill his mother. O'Brien countered that Bruscato's family shouldn't be allowed to shift the blame to the psychiatrist with a civil lawsuit.

A judge ruled in the psychiatrist's favor, but a divided state Court of Appeals reversed the decision and allowed the case to go to trial. A subsequent appeal put the question before the Georgia Supreme Court, which sought to end the debate with its unanimous ruling.

"It's been a long road trying to crawl back in the ballgame, but here we are. I recognize we have challenges at trial, but I look forward to trying it," said Jerry Quinn, the Bruscato family's attorney. "I'm happy with this big win, but now we have to try to convince the jury."

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