Doctor Found Liable For Failing To Help Suicidal Patient

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Josh Koskoff
Josh Koskoff

Mary Morrin, executor of the estate of James Morrin v. Carl Koplin: A former Tolland doctor and his nurse practitioner failed to treat James Morrin's mental illness, according to lawyers for Morrin's estate. They instead gave the man numerous sleeping pills for insomnia and never recommended counseling.

Thus, the plaintiff's lawyers said, Morrin did not get the help he desperately needed. In June 2009, he shot and killed his wife, Alice, before killing himself 46 seconds later.

Last week, a Waterbury Superior Court jury that had already found the former doctor and his medical practice liable for Morrin's death, awarded the man's estate roughly $8 million. Morrin left behind two daughters, who were ages 9 and 15 at the time of the murder-suicide.

"It was just so preventable," said Joshua Koskoff, one of the lawyers for the estate. "He really just needed someone to talk to, a therapist to straighten him out and bring him in touch with reality."

Vernon police said Morrin killed his wife and himself after learning she was having an affair. Alice Morrin had filed for divorce two months earlier. James Morrin, who was 45, was a highway planner for the state Department of Transportation and an Air Force veteran. Alice Morrin, who was 43, worked for WTIC-TV and The Hartford Courant. The daughters were home at the time of the murder-suicide but were unharmed.

Koskoff, of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport, said it appears Morrin was the last to know his wife was having an affair.

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Koskoff, who was assisted by Katie Mesner-Hage, of the same firm. "He was living under this false reality that his relationship was going to recover even though his wife filed for divorce."

Koplin was James Morrin's doctor. Morrin's family, with his mother as executor, sued Koplin and his practice, Healthwise Medical Group, for medical malpractice, saying Koplin failed to diagnose Morrin's mental health problems and failed to refer him to a psychiatrist. Koplin denied the allegations.

Koskoff explained that Morrin went through a period of about three months when he was getting one to three hours of sleep each night. Koskoff said Morrin was becoming increasingly depressed and was losing touch with reality. He also reportedly told his doctor about other symptoms, including anxiety, fear, sadness, the marital problems, weight loss and inability to concentrate.

However, according to Koskoff, medical records indicate the doctor said all Morrin needed was sleep. The physician prescribed various sleeping pills.

"Dr. Koplin saw him for three visits in this critical time period and did no psych evaluation," said Koskoff, noting that such an evaluation is required of a family practice doctor when a patient complains of mental illness-type symptoms. Koskoff said that on Morrin's fourth visit the man saw a nurse practitioner who looked at all the sleeping medications that had been prescribed and advised Morrin also to try melatonin, an over-the-counter sleep aid.

Throughout this period, Morrin wrote a series of letters that illustrated his severe depression and his suicidal potential. These writings were submitted into evidence in the lawsuit to show Morrin's condition at the time and what his doctor was failing to see.

"It's really the letters that allowed us to tell this story because they filled in all the blanks that were left in the medical records," said Koskoff. "It was all the information they could have elicited. He was heartbreakingly articulate about his problems if only someone was listening and stepped in there would've been no murder-suicide."

Koskoff described Koplin's practice as "point-and-click medicine." He said the doctor took notes on a laptop and patients got very little time with him. Pills were prescribed and patients were sent on their way. Nevertheless, Koskoff said Morrin remained loyal to Koplin's practice and was a longtime patient.

"What's keeping him going is this incredible dedication to his two daughters who he loves clearly, [according to] his letters," said Koskoff. "He has this tunnel vision on the marriage. He talks about himself hanging by a thread. He also talks in his letters about having nobody to talk to. When he reaches out to the one person he thinks he can, his doctor, he doesn't seem to be listening at all."

Koplin and his medical practice were represented by James Rosenblum of Rosenblum Newfield in Stamford. Rosenblum argued that neither Koplin nor his nurse practitioner knew Morrin was suicidal.

The case went to trial before Waterbury Superior Court Judge Kari Dooley and was bifurcated. A liability verdict came on Dec. 19 favoring the plaintiffs. A hearing in damages took place Jan. 6. The jury then deliberated two days before awarding Morrin's estate $8,008,500.

Rosenblum declined comment for this report due to pending post-trial motions.

Koplin is serving an unrelated four-year federal prison sentence for child pornography. Federal prosecutors said the doctor was a Boy Scout leader who amassed one of the largest child pornography collections ever found in Connecticut—an 800-gigabyte collection of sexually explicit images and videos of boys.

After pleading guilty in the child pornography case, Koplin surrendered his state medical license in November 2012.

Koskoff said the Morrin lawsuit touched on a lot of issues that have been in the public's mind since the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012.

"It's everything that people have been talking about in the past year—mental health, firearms, lapses in mental health treatment," said Kosoff. "It's very telling that the jury was able to look at this as seriously as a failure to diagnose a heart attack or cancer. There's a growing respect for the legitimacy of mental illness and the need for treatment."•

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