5 legal cases against doctors that made headlines in 2019

Doctors aren't typically known for running afoul of the law.

When they do, it can sometimes make big headlines. 

We took a look at some of the biggest legal cases brought against docs. Here are five of them from 2019.

William Husel, D.O. 

An Ohio critical care doctor, Husel was indicted in June and charged with 25 counts of murder for allegedly intentionally ordering fatal drug overdoses in the deaths of hospitalized patients. He has pleaded not guilty.

Husel was charged after authorities said he deliberately ordered overdoses of fentanyl that were given to patients at Mount Carmel and St. Ann’s hospitals in Columbus to help end their lives.

Drugs prescription pad

Husel was fired after an investigation by the Mount Carmel Health System. He is free on bail and a trial date has been set for June, according to public radio station WOSU.

Many of the patients who died were on ventilators and receiving palliative care. His defense lawyer at the time of his indictment said he was providing “comfort care” for dying patients, not trying to kill them.

Husel faces a prison sentence of 15 years to life on each charge if found guilty.

Husel has two new lawyers, including Florida-based attorney Jose Baez, known for successfully defending high-profile clients Casey Anthony and Aaron Hernandez, according to the radio station. Husel also filed a lawsuit against Mount Carmel’s parent company Trinity Health in August for not covering his criminal defense costs, as it had in dozens of related civil cases. 

RELATED: Ohio doctor charged with murder in deaths of 25 hospitalized patients

George Tyndall, M.D.

After a yearlong police investigation, the ex-University of Southern California (USC) gynecologist was arrested in June and charged with the sexual assault of student patients. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tyndall, who resigned in 2017 after the university’s internal investigation into allegations from hundreds of women that the gynecologist sexually abused or harassed them while treating them at the university’s student health center, was arrested outside his home.

When they took him into custody, police found a loaded revolver in his possession. Tyndall, who has denied any wrongdoing, was hospitalized after he said he was experiencing chest pains following his arrest and was arraigned a couple of days later.

Is it possible to commit a human rights violation simply by not asking the right questions?
(Getty Images

He is charged with sexually assaulting 16 women over a seven-year period when he worked at the university. He was charged with 18 counts of sexual penetration and 11 counts of sexual battery by fraud, both felonies. If convicted, Tyndall faces a possible prison sentence of up to 53 years.

He has been accused of sexual conduct toward hundreds of USC students at the campus clinic where he practiced for decades.  

Tyndall surrendered his medical license, which had already been suspended due to the allegations against him, according to CNN.

USC has offered to pay $215 million to settle potentially thousands of claims from women who say Tyndall abused them at the student health center.

RELATED: Ex-USC gynecologist George Tyndall arrested, charged with sexual assault of student patients

James Heaps, M.D.

It may be hard to believe, but Tyndall wasn’t the only college gynecologist charged with sexually abusing patients.

Heaps, formerly of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), appeared in court last June on charges of sexual misconduct involving two patients. He pleaded not guilty.

On a website set up following the charges against Heaps, UCLA said it investigated Heaps in 2018 for sexual misconduct and improper billing practices and reported him to California’s medical board, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and law enforcement, as well as terminating his employment. UCLA has paid more than $3.5 million in settlements related to accusations against Heaps, according to news reports.

While he is facing criminal charges related to just two accusations, Heaps has been accused by more than 50 women of sexual assault. A trial will likely be scheduled in 2020. 

Joseph DeCorso, M.D.

DeCorso, a New Jersey physician, pleaded guilty in September to his role in a massive telemedicine fraud scheme, one of the largest healthcare fraud cases ever investigated by the federal government. 

Sixty-two-year-old DeCorso entered a guilty plea late to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, and his sentencing is set for January 2020, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Telemedicine doctor

He was one of 24 telemedicine executives, medical device executives and physicians charged in April by the DOJ in playing a role in a “complex, multi-layered scheme” to defraud Medicare, with losses totaling $1.2 billion to the government. 

In the scheme, medical device companies paid kickbacks and bribes to physicians working for telemedicine companies to induce them to prescribe orthopedic braces that were not medically necessary, according to DOJ. All told, Medicare was billing for $1.7 billion in such braces and paid out $900 million. 

RELATED: New Jersey physician pleads guilty to role in massive telemedicine fraud scheme

Joel Smithers, D.O.

Smithers, a Virginia physician, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for illegally prescribing opioids, including one prescription that caused a woman’s death.

Smithers, of Greensboro, North Carolina, was sentenced in October in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Virginia, after he was found guilty in May of more than 800 counts of illegally prescribing drugs.

Smithers, who prosecutors said ran his medical practice like an interstate drug distribution ring, had faced a minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison. Smithers was convicted in May after a nine-day jury trial of 861 counts of illegally distributing opioids, including prescribing oxycodone and oxymorphone that caused the death of a West Virginia woman.

Evidence presented at his trial showed Smithers, 36, opened an office in Martinsville in August 2015 and prescribed controlled substances to every patient in his practice, distributing over 500,000 doses to patients from Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee. The drugs included oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl.

Smithers wrote in a court filing that he plans to appeal his convictions.