The state Court of Appeals reinstated a medical malpractice lawsuit Tuesday against Park Nicollet Clinic over the care provided to Lake Minnetonka businessman Brian Short in the weeks before he shot his wife, three children and himself in 2015.
The court ordered the case back to Hennepin County District Court for trial on the medical malpractice and wrongful death claims filed by a family trustee. A Hennepin County judge had previously granted Park Nicollet's request to dismiss the case without trial.
But the appellate court ruled the dismissal was inappropriate because a question exists as to whether Park Nicollet should have been able to prevent Short's murder-suicide.
Trustee David Smits filed the lawsuit on behalf of the next of kin of Short, his wife Karen and their children Madison, Cole and Brooklyn. The suit claimed Park Nicollet physicians didn't do enough to treat Short's mental health crisis that culminated in the fatal shootings at the family's Greenwood mansion.
"We will prove at trial that the Short family would be alive today if Park Nicollet simply provided him reasonable medical care," Short attorney Patrick Arenz said. "Brian wanted to get better. His family wanted him to get better. And now Park Nicollet will need to face a jury and account for the unreasonable care it provided Brian."
In a statement, Park Nicollet lawyer Mark Solheim said: "At this time, we are not able to discuss the details of this case because it's in active litigation. In light of today's ruling, we are evaluating next steps."
In the summer before his death, Short sought medical treatment nine times for severe anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, court documents said. He was prescribed drugs for depression and anxiety but was not admitted for psychiatric treatment, according to the documents.
The appellate ruling, written by Judge Jennifer Frisch and signed by Judges Carol Hooten and Tracy M. Smith, noted the decision doesn't mean Park Nicollet is liable. At trial, the Short family trustee "will be required to prove through expert testimony that Park Nicollet departed from the applicable standards of care and that those departures were the cause of Short's suicide."
Similarly, the court said a jury should determine whether familicide — Short's murder of his wife and three children — was a foreseeable risk. The court called it a "close call" in which the "issue of foreseeability must be tried before a jury."
Short reportedly was stressed over financial issues with his Excelsior-based business and facing the prospect of selling the $2 million family home. He had checked insurance policies regarding death benefits, and relatives noted his deepening depression, significant weight loss and absence from family events and boating excursions.
Court records showed that over the course of two months, Short was treated with several drugs including Zoloft, Xanax, Ativan, Ambien, Lexapro and Trazodone. But Park Nicollet failed to warn Short and his family about the signs of worsening symptoms, Arenz said.
"We will also show at trial that Park Nicollet shredded some of the original forms that Brian filled out for his treatment, and that Park Nicollet made other errors in his medical records," the lawyer said.
At Short's final visit with a physician, he was instructed to return in four to six weeks, a time frame that experts said was too long under the circumstances, the suit claimed.
In September 2015, Short, 45, purchased a shotgun and killed his 17-year-old son, Cole, and his 15- and 14-year-old daughters, Madison and Brooklyn, as they slept. He shot his 48-year-old wife, Karen, as she tried to call 911, and then took his own life.
Park Nicollet may ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case, but it's not automatically considered. No trial date has been set.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747