Does calling a fellow doctor an “idiot” constitute libel?

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This month we look at the issue of defamation, and whether a claim that a doctor is an “idiot” falls within the legal definition of the term.

The facts, as presented by the Court of Appeal, were as follows: Dr. S, a cardiologist, had privileges in a hospital for more than a decade before the peer review committee of the hospital did not vote to revoke its clinical privileges after a 21-month investigation. , including an investigation into sexual harassment. The doctor’s tenure at the hospital had been fraught with tension, going back years and beginning when he said racial motives led to a disproportionate number of his cases being referred for peer review. Dr S was an Iranian immigrant of Arab descent.

After his clinical privileges at the hospital were revoked, Dr S took legal action against many people involved in the peer review process. The defendants requested dismissal, arguing that they were immune from any liability for any claims arising from a peer review process based on state law protecting such peer review procedures. peers. The lower court allowed most of the dismissal motions, but allowed libel lawsuits against 2 defendants – the hospital’s head of cardiology and the hospital’s legal advisor – to stand.

Dr S claimed that the chief of the cardiology department, Dr G, had made a false statement when he told another cardiologist that Dr S “is an idiot” who administered an anticoagulant to “an obvious case intracerebral hemorrhage “. He claimed that the hospital’s general counsel, Ms. D, had drafted “letters and various other documents and communications” containing “defamatory material intended to destroy her reputation in the medical community”.


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None of the defendants denied making the alleged statements. Ms. D argued that she was immune from liability because her actions were committed under a protected peer review process. Dr G claimed that as long as he made a statement of fact it was true and otherwise it was only his opinion and therefore no legal action.

As the discovery progressed, Dr S asked the court to compel Ms D to disclose the hospital’s investigation into the sexual harassment allegations made against him, his personal file and the correspondence Ms D had. sent or received concerning him. After argument, the court ruled that the documents were protected from disclosure by peer review privilege and that Ms. D was not required to produce them.

At the end of discovery, the defendants applied for summary judgment, requesting that the case be dismissed against them. At this point, Dr S submitted affidavits from 2 hospital employees, 1 who claimed that she overheard Ms D making derogatory remarks about Dr S including that he was a horrible doctor, a danger to patients and an idiot. The court struck out the 2 affidavits as inappropriate and issued summary judgment in favor of the defendants, dismissing the case against them.

The court explained that even assuming that Dr G made the alleged statements to a fellow cardiologist, it was not disputed that Dr S had in fact administered an anticoagulant to a patient who had an intracerebral hemorrhage. This was never denied by Dr S. In addition, the court ruled that the characterization of Dr S’s conduct as “foolish” was nothing more than “impression of a subject” and was not not susceptible to action. Regarding the allegations against Ms. D, the court found that Dr. S had not presented any admissible evidence showing that Ms. D “had made comments about her, defamatory or otherwise, outside the context of protected review activities. by peers “. Dr S appealed.


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