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socrateaser, Lawyer
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 38911
Experience:  Retired (mostly)
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I am a nurse practitioner in the NY state. A patient wrote

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I am a nurse practitioner in the NY state. A patient wrote my CEO a serious false accusation about how I endangered her health by supposedly giving her false information about drug side effects, that I was rude, ignorant and uninformed, that I supposedly insisted the drug she is taking, prescribed by her own MD is not causing her severe fatigue. Luckily the nurses whom she called a day after she saw me had documented that patient was upset because I threatened her disability claims. These all came from her anger towards me when I did not sign her disability claim, but instead refer her to her other care provider who had known her case. I was only covering my collaborating MD and therefore had not dealt with her before. She also accused me of fraud because the secretary in our practice stamped her disability papers with her MD's name and sent back to her insurance as claim denied. I diid not know about this, until her MD came back from vacation and saw her and she reported me. Can I sue her for libel and defamation? Thank you.

Defamation is a false statement of reputation injuring fact, of or concerning a plaintiff, published to a third party and causing damages. Where the matter is about a public person or of public concern, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew the statement was false at the time it was made, or that the defendant acted with reckless disregard for the truth. This requirement is called "malice." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

Your allegations suggest that the patient-defendant has made false statement about your competency and practice, so if the court finds that you are a private person and that this issue is not a matter of public concern, then your facts satisfy the elements of defamation.

However, as a licensed practitioner, your conduct may be of sufficient public concern, such that you would have to prove malice. It's not clear from your facts whether or not the patient was acting out of a mental disability, or out of an intent to injure your reputation, without actually checking the truth of her statements. This is the "gray area" in your case, and it is what could make the case difficult to win.

Obviously, you will have to find a lawyer willing to take the case. But, what I've described above is what I believe a competent lawyer would have to determine before deciding whether or not your case has a high probability of success.

I would like to be absolutely determinative for you with my answer, but this is one of those circumstances, where, similar to medical diagnosis, it's not clear that the course of care will cure the patient.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I am sorry I was not very clear because I thought this letter might be exposed to the public and worry about privacy. I know she has malice in her intent because she wrote words that I did not say. My charting on her visit and exam showed a different conversation. I saw her only because she was sick c/o dizziness. I addressed this, plus recommended meds. for her hot flashes and bone density test which was needed for someone like her who is on aromatase inhibitor. And she followed those recommendations which says something, it means I was not ignorant and uninformed if she trusted my recommendations.

She stated that I insisted that her severe fatigue was not a side effect of drug letrazole, that I supposedly insisted and would not listen to her , that letrazole and tamoxifen are the same drugs. this was not in our conversation. there were 2 different nurses whom she spoke a day after and both RNs has not mentioned that this pt. complained about me misleading her. My CEO said that the patient could file a complaint to the board for medical misdemeanor. Re. fraud, that was also false, but the CEO do not want to tell the patient that it is the company's protocol to stamp disability papers w/MDs names, even if MDs are out on vacation. So, therefore my company will not help me clear my name because they do not want to be implicated in this accusation of "fraud". I am not intent on suing the patient but to counter sue if she does report me to the board and cost me personal expense. Can I ask my lawyer when I find one, to call my MD so he can diffuse this patient's anger, even though I am innocent, I would rather spend my time peacefully, than fighting w/her. She is not mentally ill, she is a young professional who does not want to go back to work FT, based on severe fatigue as her disability.

Your additional facts confirm what I suspected, which is that there are a lot of facts that must be considered before the issue of malice can be resolved.

A complaint to a disciplinary board is an entirely independent legal matter between you and the State of NY. There is no "countersuit." Your action is just a straight lawsuit against the defendant, based upon defamation, and the reasonably foreseeable injuries that result from the reputation injury.

Re asking your lawyer to contact your supervising MD, that's a good plan, especially because the patient may be able to sue the MD for negligent supervision, given that he/she is ultimately responsible for your alleged lack of due care in practicing your profession.

Note: I'm not suggesting that you've done anything wrong, just that the patient will undoubtedly allege that you're incompetent, and that may blow back on the supervising MD.

Hope this helps.
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you. I appreciate your help.