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Posted on Monday, August 13, 2012

Not All Employee Insults Are Defamatory

A surgeon at Inova Fairfax Hospital claimed that the hospital and several of its staff members defamed him by making a number of statements challenging his abilities as a doctor.  Among the allegedly defamatory statements the doctor claimed the staff made were the following:

  • That he was “incompetent and unqualified.”
  • That he was “a bad surgeon who had poor technique.”
  • That he was “a foreigner with a bad accent and that American patients do not like foreign doctors.”
  • That he had “no compassion” for a particular patient.
  • Telling potential patients that his “hands shake.”

The hospital defended the lawsuit by claiming that the above statements were statements of opinion, which do not give rise to a claim for defamation.

The Court had to determine which of the above statements were factual in nature (that could support a defamation claim), and which were statements of opinion which could not support a defamation claim.
A Fairfax County Circuit Court recently found that only the last one, regarding the doctor’s alleged shaking hands, was factual in nature.  The Court found that the other statements above were opinions that could not be proven in fact as either true or false.  Therefore, the first four statements above could not be used by the doctor in bringing his defamation case against the hospital.

Posted by Declan Leonard, Managing Partner of Berenzweig Leonard, LLP DLeonard@BerenzweigLaw.com

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