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Lawsuit claims Park Nicollet didn't do enough to treat Lake Minnetonka man who killed family, himself

Star Tribune - 8/2/2019

In his final days, Brian Short entered an emotional free fall.

Close friends knew the Lake Minnetonka businessman was struggling financially and would need to sell the family's $2 million mansion. But no one could fathom what pushed him to fatally shoot his wife and three children in September 2015 before killing himself.

A wrongful-death lawsuit filed Tuesday claims that Park Nicollet physicians didn't do enough to treat Short's growing mental health crisis in the weeks before the murder-suicide in the west metro enclave of Greenwood.

The hospital system vehemently denies any wrongdoing. "As the court case proceeds, we believe the facts will show that our clinicians and care teams provided appropriate care," a spokeswoman said in a statement to the Star Tribune, declining further comment amid pending litigation. "We were deeply saddened to learn of this unimaginable tragedy."

Short sought medical treatment 11 times that summer for severe anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, the lawsuit says. But Park Nicollet doctors never admitted him for psychiatric treatment, instead prescribing an assortment of drugs, documents allege.

"This tragic, horrific, and foreseeable outcome would have been prevented by minimally competent medical treatment," according to a malpractice lawsuit filed by Dave Smits, trustee for Short's next-of-kin. The lawsuit names Health Partners, Park Nicollet Clinic and its subsidiaries as defendants, claiming that all parties failed to provide the "required standards of care" despite worsening symptoms.

Park Nicollet attorneys filed a legal response in Hennepin County District Court renouncing all liability for Short's conduct.

"Any action or inaction by [Park Nicollet] was not the proximate cause of injury to Brian Short, the Short family, or Plaintiff," according to the document.

Police investigators said Short was stressed over financial issues with his Excelsior-based business and that he'd checked insurance policies regarding death benefits. Relatives reported deepening depression evidenced by a significant weight loss and his absence from family events and boating excursions.

In mid-June of 2015, Short sought help from medical professionals at Park Nicollet clinics to help address panic attacks, insomnia and anxiety, the lawsuit says. Over the course of two months, court records allege, he was treated with an assortment of oral anti-depressants and never referred to a psychiatrist -- even as his condition deteriorated.

On June 16, 2015, Short went to Urgent Care via the ER at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital, saying he couldn't wait the two days until an appointment with his family doctor. A physicians assistant prescribed him Xanax, according to the lawsuit.

Two days later, Short visited his family doctor and left with a prescription for Zoloft.

Within a month, he told a third physician he'd experienced "thoughts of death and suicide," the suit says. She increased Short's medication and referred him to a social worker.

Frequent follow-up appointments resulted in several medication adjustments, including new prescriptions for Ativan, Ambien, Lexapro and Trazodone. During Short's last clinic visit, a physician instructed him to return in four to six weeks, a time frame relatives now claim in the lawsuit was "inappropriately long under the circumstances."

By late August, Short appeared agitated and disturbed, unable to sleep for days at a time. Yet, "no one from Park Nicollet ever followed up with Brian or his family to assess Brian's condition," according to court records. The suit also accuses health care providers of failing to coordinate on a treatment plan or ask Short's family about his access to firearms.

During that time, Short bought a 12-gauge shotgun from Gander Mountain.

He used it to shoot his 17-year-old son, Cole, and his 15- and 14-year-old daughters, Madison and Brooklyn, as they slept, and his 48-year-old wife, Karen, as she tried to call 911. Then he took his own life.

The lawsuit seeks damages exceeding $50,000 and could be headed for a jury trial next June.

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648

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