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Court Won't Halt Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against William Husel

William Husel appears at a Franklin County Courthouse on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. He's charged with 25 counts of murder.
Paige Pfleger/WOSU
William Husel appears at a Franklin County Courthouse on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. He's charged with 25 counts of murder.

A court official has refused to pause pretrial proceedings in wrongful-death lawsuits against a doctor charged with 25 counts of murder and the Ohio hospital system where he worked.

William Husel is accused of ordering excessive painkiller doses given to dozens of patients in the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System who later died.

Lawyers representing Mount Carmel and the fired doctor argued the pretrial fact-finding phase of 10 related lawsuits should be halted because of the ongoing criminal case, to protect the doctor's right to a fair trial. Franklin County Magistrate Ed Skeens rejected that request Wednesday, saying the delay they sought was indefinite and too broad and wouldn't serve the public interest.

"A large number of families are involved in these cases, and they want to find out what happened to their loved ones and have their day in court," Skeens wrote.

Husel has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer in the criminal case has said the doctor was providing comfort care to dying patients, not trying to kill them.

Skeens agreed for now to block the families' lawyers from pursuing a sworn statement from Husel, noting that such an attempt would probably be of little value because Husel's lawyer indicated the doctor would assert his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. The plaintiffs still can pursue testimony from other relevant witnesses, such as nurses and pharmacists who administered or approved the drugs.

Mount Carmel said it is reviewing Skeens' decision. A message seeking comment was left for Husel's attorney in the civil cases.

Mount Carmel found that Husel ordered potentially fatal doses for 29 patients who died over the past few years. It said six additional patients got doses that were excessive but likely not the cause of their deaths.

The hospital system has since publicly apologized and tightened its drug policies and access.

Husel was charged with murder only in cases involving 500 to 2,000 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl — amounts far larger than typical doses to address pain.

In all, at least 30 wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed against Husel and Mount Carmel, including one this week over the December 2017 death of 74-year-old Danny Mollette, of Galloway.

Mount Carmel has settled some of the other lawsuits for a total of nearly $4.5 million.

No one besides Husel is being prosecuted, though dozens of Mount Carmel employees were removed from patient care and reported to professional boards for investigation and potential disciplinary action.

The State Medical Board already suspended Husel's license.