Court revives lawsuit over Minnesota family's 2015 killing

Flowers at the Short house
Flowers rest outside the Short family's house in Greenwood, Minn., in September 2015.
Jim Gehrz | Star Tribune via AP 2015

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday revived a lawsuit filed by relatives of a Greenwood man who killed his wife and the couple’s three children before killing himself in 2015.

Relatives of Brian Short had sued Park Nicollet health system, alleging that doctors did not do enough to treat Short’s mental illness before he fatally shot his wife, Karen; their three children, Cole, Madison and Brooklyn; and himself in the family's home.

According to the lawsuit, Brian Short went to the emergency room, urgent care and his family doctor several times to get help for depression and anxiety in the summer of 2015. But the lawsuit alleges the Park Nicollet health system did not take Short’s “severe, overwhelming and rapidly worsening” illness seriously enough.

A lower court dismissed the wrongful death lawsuit, and the family appealed.

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The appeals court ruled Tuesday that Short’s mental-health provider owed a duty of care to him as a matter of law, saying that dismissing the case was not appropriate when there is a question about whether the deaths would have been a foreseeable risk.

The case was sent back to district court for trial, where the appeals court said expert testimony may establish whether the risk was foreseeable.

“Our conclusion that Park Nicollet owed a duty to Short is not dispositive of whether Park Nicollet is ultimately liable for damages stemming from Short’s suicide,” the appeals court found. “At trial, appellant 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. ... Park Nicollet and its experts contest liability, and the resolution of these genuine disputes is for the jury.”

Park Nicollet spokesperson Annelise Heitkamp said the company is “evaluating next steps.” She said Park Nicollet can't discuss details of the case because it's in litigation.