COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An Ohio hospital system has reached nearly $4.5 million in settlements so far over the deaths of patients who allegedly received excessive painkiller doses ordered by a doctor now charged with murder.
At least 29 wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed against the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System and now-fired intensive care doctor William Husel, who pleaded not guilty to murder charges in 25 deaths that occurred between 2015 and 2018.
His lawyer has said Husel was providing comfort care to dying patients, not trying to kill them.
Mount Carmel has reached settlements in seven cases to date, plus two that didn't involve lawsuits.
"It is our hope that these settlements will bring some measure of closure and comfort to the families," Mount Carmel said in a statement. The hospital system has also publicly apologized for the patient deaths.
The settlements range from $200,000 to $700,000. In most cases, patients' families get two-thirds or less of the payouts from the hospital's insurers. The rest goes to their attorneys.
The families and the lawyers aren't commenting on the settlements, citing related confidentiality agreements.
The hospital system has asked a court to pause proceedings in the other lawsuits while Husel's criminal case is pending. Mount Carmel said it is working with families' attorneys in the civil cases "to resolve these matters fairly" outside of court.
Mount Carmel might have an interest in settling cases before Husel's potential criminal trial to avoid the risk that information exposed during such a trial would point to more liability by the hospital system — a scenario that would "add zeroes to the settlement checks," said Michael Benza, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Mount Carmel found that Husel ordered potentially fatal drug doses for 29 patients over the past several years. It said six more patients got doses that were excessive but did not likely cause their deaths.
Inspectors found that the doctor overrode a dispensing system to access large doses of drugs in many of the cases. Mount Carmel has since tightened its drug policies and access .
All but one of the patients were at Mount Carmel West hospital in Columbus. The exception, 70-year-old Robert Lee of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, was treated at Mount Carmel St. Ann's in suburban Columbus after suffering a heart attack in October 2017.
Lee's death was among the 25 that led to murder charges. His relatives didn't sue, but in probate court filings associated with a $675,000 settlement, they alleged that medical records show Husel ordered an excessive dose of fentanyl for Lee before having an "end of life" discussion with the family.
"Based on that, it appears that Dr. Husel made the unwarranted decision to end Mr. Lee's life before he had discussed that with the family," the filed statement said. "While family members agreed that life support would be withdrawn, they did not agree to anything that would have hastened the death of their loved one."
Mount Carmel won't comment on specific cases, except to note that the patient in the most recent lawsuit, 55-year-old Drake Mills, wasn't among the patients it found to be affected by Husel's alleged misconduct.
Mills died in June 2018, about two weeks after abdominal pain sent him to the emergency department, according to the lawsuit. It alleges he was given a lethal combination of fentanyl and other medication in conjunction with efforts to withdraw a ventilator, but doesn't specify who ordered or administered the drugs in question.
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