I'm Bullied By Nurses -- What Can I Do?

Carolyn Buppert, NP, JD

Disclosures

October 06, 2011

Question

I am a physician who has been bullied (maligned) by nursing and other staff. The result has seriously damaged my career and reputation. What legal recourse do I have?

Response from Carolyn Buppert, NP, JD
Attorney, Law Office of Carolyn Buppert, PC, Bethesda, Maryland

No legal remedy exists at this time for bullying, although there is a legal mechanism for dealing, under certain circumstances, with maligning. An individual may file a tort action for "slander." Slander is "oral defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed."[1] Examples of slander might include accusing someone of having committed a crime (when the individual did not), or stating that an individual is unable to perform one's occupation (when the individual can).

Damages would be limited to money lost through lost business. However, if there is "malicious intent," a judge may award a plaintiff punitive damages.

Generally, as a plaintiff, you would need to prove the following:

  1. That the individual you are suing made a false and defamatory statement concerning you;

  2. That the individual made the defamatory statement to someone other than you;

  3. That the individual's fault amounted to at least negligence, if not malice;

  4. That the statement was not privileged; and

  5. That you suffered damage as a result of the statement.

If you sued, the defendant might argue that the statements were true or an opinion. If the statements were made in a peer review or credentialing process, the defendant would argue that the statements are "privileged" and that therefore no damages should be awarded.

Both sides could argue for days about these issues: Was the communication slander? Is there a defense of truth, opinion, or privilege? Did the communication result in damage that can be translated into monetary value?

It is difficult to make a successful case for slander. If, for example, a nurse or a patient gave you a poor review on a Website where physicians are rated, that would be "opinion." If others who work in the office have been vocal about your capabilities, behavior, or attitude, the criticism may have been inelegant, but it is "opinion." If, however, a competing medical office maligned you, then a case could be made that there was malicious intent, and you might argue that there was a tortious interference of business relationship.

I can't give you adequate legal advice without knowing the facts of the situation. I suggest that you consult an attorney in your state if you believe that others are spreading untrue and defamatory information about you.

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