Wife sues doctor over death of noted golf course architect

The sudden death of John Harbottle III nearly three years ago left many people in the Puget Sound-area golf community in shock.

The respected golf course architect was only 53 when he died in a California airport in May 2012.

His wife, Teresa Harbottle, now contends her husband should still be alive.

She has sued her husband’s physician in Pierce County Superior Court, accusing Dr. Kevin Braun of misdiagnosing a serious heart condition as acid reflux disease.

Braun’s “serious medical negligence” led to her husband’s untimely death, she contends.

“As a direct result of Dr. Braun’s negligence ... Teresa Harbottle lost her husband and her best friend,” according to her lawsuit, filed last week on her behalf by Tacoma attorney John Connelly.

She seeks unspecified damages for herself and the couple’s two children.

Braun declined to comment Tuesday, referring questions to his attorney, Scott O’Halloran.

O’Halloran declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit as well, saying federal law restricts what attorneys can divulge in cases involving medical claims. O’Halloran also pointed out that anyone can make an allegation in a lawsuit and that it is up to the courts to get to the truth.

Braun’s medical license is active, and the state Department of Health has taken no enforcement action against him in the 15 years he’s practiced in Washington, records show.

He also has not been sued for malpractice in any other Washington county, according to state court records.

John Harbottle was a sought-after commodity at the time of his death. The Bellarmine Prep graduate had built nearly 20 courses and supervised the renovations of 50 layouts, mostly on the West Coast.

His signature project, the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain near Bremerton, has hosted several prestigious tournaments, the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Junior Amateur among them.

He was renovating his home course — the Tacoma Country & Golf Club — when he died.

In June 2011, he began suffering health problems, including “chest burning” and high cholesterol, his wife’s lawsuit states.

He went to Braun for help. The doctor ordered an EKG that showed abnormal cardiac function, including what appeared to be a blockage on the right side of his heart, the lawsuit alleges.

“Dr. Braun failed to perform any further workup and continued on the incorrect assumption that John’s symptoms were due to other, unrelated causes,” according to the lawsuit. “Dr. Braun erroneously presumed that John was suffering from GERD (acid reflux) and treated John accordingly.”

Nine months later, John Harbottle began showing more signs of heart trouble, including shortness of breath during exertion, but Braun did not order cardiac-related tests, the suit states.

“Dr. Braun’s failure to take the necessary steps to rule out the possibility that heart disease was causing John’s symptoms resulted in John’s death from heart failure on May 24, 2012, at the age of 53,” according to the lawsuit.

An autopsy showed Harbottle had a significant blockage in his coronary artery. The cause of death was listed as atherosclerotic heart disease.

Teresa Harbottle contends her husband could have sought treatment that might have saved his life had he known he had heart disease.

Instead, she says, he died, and she and their children have suffered “enormous personal, emotional and financial losses.”