Dr. Brian Nadler fires back at Hawkesbury Hospital, staff with $20M lawsuit

Dr. Brian Nadler, the physician acquitted this week of first-degree murder and criminal negligence for his role in the deaths of four patients under his care, is suing the hospital where he worked at the time of his arrest, accusing staff there of making an "abrupt, erroneous and defamatory decision to involve police."

Nadler, his mother Susan Epstein and sister Erica Nadler are all listed as plaintiffs in the suit filed in April 2023, while Nadler was still fighting the criminal charges against him.

They're seeking damages totalling $20 million from the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital and 21 employees, including the hospital's chief of staff and chief of general medicine at the time, for defamation, abuse of process and conspiracy.

In a statement of defence filed this April, the defendants deny all allegations outlined by Nadler and his family.

Nadler was a physician at the hospital when he was arrested in March 2021 and subsequently charged with the deaths of four patients between the ages of 79 and 93.

The civil suit is separate from Nadler's criminal case in which he was acquitted on Tuesday of all eight counts against him including four charges of first-degree murder and four counts of criminal negligence causing death.

Nadler was accused of intentionally overmedicating his patients, causing their deaths. He has maintained that the patients all died from COVID-19.

In the statement of claim, Nadler and his family explain how they "have suffered from the extreme stigma and hardship of having to live under the burden of responding to these charges."

While the criminal charges made their way through the courts, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario suspended Nadler's medical licence and he was unable to work.

Nadler argues police relied on false statements made by the former colleagues he's now suing.

Brian Nadler, center, standing with his defense team outside the Ottawa courthouse Tuesday following his acquittal of first degree murder and criminal negligence charges. He is now suing his former work place, the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital and several of its staff for $20 million.
Nadler, center, stands with his defence team outside the Ottawa Courthouse on Tuesday following his acquittal on first-degree murder and criminal negligence charges. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Hospital broke COVID-19 protocol: Nadler

The statement of claim describes how the hospital was dealing with multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in March 2021, with Nadler assigned as lead treating physician for COVID-positive patients.

Nadler said he raised numerous concerns at the time, including how the hospital broke provincial guidelines and in some cases failed to adequately isolate COVID patients, exposing other high-risk patients to the virus.

"In his view, this was being done to free up beds for new patients and to limit the number of patients in isolation," because "the hospital was concerned about the financial consequences" of doing so, reads the statement of claim.

The hospital was also dealing with a multi-million-dollar budget deficit at the time.

Nadler claims all his concerns were ignored, however. Six of his patients died from COVID-19 in March 2021, and Nadler said in each case "their deaths were imminent" when he provided palliative care.

He argues his treatment "was consistent with the standard of practice in respect of palliative care," and says numerous hospital staff including doctors, nurses and others were aware of the medication he was prescribing and administering to his patients.

"None of them intervened," reads Nadler's statement of claim.

Hospital alleges 'concerning behaviour'

In their statement of defence, the hospital and other defendants say Nadler began showing "concerning behaviour" after being assigned to a dedicated COVID-19 ward in March 2021, in the chaotic early days of the pandemic.

"He was reportedly not sleeping or eating. He sent bizarre and troubling emails to physicians," the statement of defence says.

Nadler's communication at the time "seemed paranoid and grandiose," they say. One colleague noted he seemed to have "pressured speech" and cried.

"Some leaders were aware that Dr. Nadler had had mental health issues in the past," according to the statement of defence.

The defendants claim hospital leaders met with Nadler to determine if he needed rest and relief, offering to have others take on some of his patient load.

"Dr. Nadler reassured them and denied offers of assistance," the statement of defence says.

In a response filed in court, Nadler denies showing such "concerning behaviour" and claims that if he had exhibited such behaviour, he would have been immediately removed from the hospital and prevented from caring for patients.

He argues the allegation of his previous mental health issues is "unattributed hearsay" that stigmatises mental illness and does not justify calling police or other actions taken against him.

In his statement of claim, Nadler says the defendants are continuing a smear campaign against him "to portray his actions in a negative light."

Police called as concerns rose

Court documents show different accounts of how Nadler's arrest unfolded.

Nadler argues it was the actions of a nurse on duty the night of March 25, 2021, that ultimately led to his arrest.

He describes in court documents how he was treating a patient for end-of-life suffering, but a nurse told hospital staff he was preventing anyone from entering that patient's room and was "prescribing and/or administering lethal doses of medication."

Police vehicles parked outside the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital in Hawkesbury, Ont., early March 26, 2021.
Police vehicles sit parked outside the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital in Hawkesbury, Ont., early March 26, 2021, during Nadler's arrest. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

Those concerns were shared with senior staff who then called 911 to report that Nadler "had murdered patients and was in the process of murdering another patient."

Nadler says at no point were these concerns brought to his attention, nor did staff try to intervene at any time.

"Not one of them attempted to reverse any medication Dr. Nadler had prescribed," according to his statement of claim.

Nadler was arrested by police that evening and charged with the murder of that patient.

"Disturbingly, Patient No. 6 was still alive when Dr. Nadler was charged with their murder," according to his statement of claim. He later describes how that patient succumbed to COVID-19 the following day.

Nadler argues the escalation was "unprecedented, unfair, deliberately misinformed, and legally actionable," and describes the nurse's assessment of his actions as ignorant.

The hospital and other defendants argue there were "immediate concerns" he may have been harming patients on the evening of March 25, 2021.

Staff reported him ordering excessive amounts of potentially lethal medication for patients, communicating aggressively with nursing staff, administering medication himself and refusing to allow nursing staff access to a patient room.

"Grave concerns had arisen in the view of the Hospital concerning Dr. Nadler with respect to his treatment of patients, dosing of medication by him, his interactions with staff and nurses and his conduct," reads the statement of defence.

Another doctor, at home at the time and receiving these reports, decided to "urgently" attend the hospital. In a rural area with no on-site security, that doctor also decided to call police.

"It was determined that staff should not confront Dr. Nadler without police support to minimize any risks to staff, patients or Dr. Nadler," the defence alleges.

The Hawkesbury Hospital is seen in Hawkesbury, Ont., on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Police have charged Dr. Brian Nadler, 35, of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., with first-degree murder and are looking into other recent suspicious deaths at the hospital. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
In a statement of defence, Hawkesbury and District General Hospital deny all of Nadler's allegations against them. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Police arrested Nadler in connection with the death of four patients under his care.

Nadler says the hospital had been satisfied with his care up until its "abrupt, erroneous and defamatory decision to involve police."

He argues staff asked to be "involved in confronting Dr. Nadler" and it is "impossible to understand why he was viewed as such a threat that police intervention was required."

Nadler claimed that each defendant purposely provided or directed others "to provide false, misleading, inaccurate" statements and information to police in order to cause him harm.

None of the allegations made by either party has been tested in court.

Nadler's lawyer Jordan Goldblatt would not provide comment "while the allegations in his claim are before the Court."

CBC also reached out to the legal representatives of Hawkesbury Hospital and staff, but did not receive a response.

While Nadler was declared innocent in criminal court earlier this week, the Crown in that case said it would reserve the right to appeal pre-trial rulings excluding certain evidence and request a new trial.