Can I sue for defamation of character? 18 Answers as of April 01, 2013

I am an anesthesiologist working in a small hospital. I had personal issues with my drug- and- alcohol abusing sister who recently moved in with me. Poor judgment on my part, I took my sister's cocaine to work and left it in my jacket. A tech went through my stuff, in my locker (stupid me I used her lock). She told my boss and EVERYONE ELSE in the hospital. I passed a drug test and went back to work. The harm: My reputation and emotional distress. Also, in my line of work, many MDs are found addicted. Any recourse? Honestly, I am furious.

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Law Offices of Ronald A. Steinberg & Associates | Ronald A. Steinberg, BA, MA, JD
First, truth is an absolute defense to a defamation of character case. Second, by carrying a controlled substance on YOUR person, you have violated the law, regardless of who "owned" it. Third, by carrying/storing it in an unsecure place, you caused your own undoing. I do not think that you have any legal recourse. What you could try to do is if your hospital administration would go along with it, you could arrange for a polygraph exam. Although "lie detectors" are not admissible in a court of law, if they are administered by a competent and experienced examiner, they work amazingly well. I can't get into it in an email, but I have been able to successfuly use them on several occasions as a way of establishing truth and avoiding court.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 4/1/2013
Alison Elle Aleman, Attorney & Counselor at Law
Alison Elle Aleman, Attorney & Counselor at Law | Alison Elle Aleman
You probably do not have an expectation of privacy from your employer (the hospital) searching your locker there. Any claim might be against the tech who searched your locker-but WHY was your locker searched? Was it pursuant to a hospital policy? By using her lock, did you give her permission, even implied permission, to search? I understand you are furious for what in your mind is an innocent oversight on your part. However, if you will permit me, you are most likely furious with yourself. First, for allowing your sister to move in with you while she was/is abusing drugs. Second, for taking these drugs to your place of employment inside of your pocket, where they could be easily found and could harm your employment as an MD there. Any suit against the tech, who seems to have been at least an acquaintance of yours before this, will most likely be unsuccessful. BUT, you have learned a valuable lesson from this. If this tech was really a friend, he/she would have come to YOU and talked to YOU about this, not to your boss and then to the entire hospital. Lose this "friend" as soon as possible. You can explain to your other friends at work that you are trying to help your sister, a drug addict, to come clean and that the drugs were hers, and were mistakenly left in your pocket after you took them away from her while she was in your home. If there was any doubt to hospital administrators, then I'm sure law enforcement would have become involved and further complicated your life by now. No matter how vicious any rumors are right now, your upstanding living and good-heartedness in assisting your sister, will win out and be visible to your real friends at the hospital. The others, who were never your friends, will simply move on to the next poor guy they can talk about. But, seriously, I'm furious with the tech. Lose that friend. And, there is such a thing as karma. The tech will get hers/his. Good luck to you.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/1/2013
Durham Jones & Pinegar | Erven Nelson
Defamation requires a false statement. If the tech only told the truth, you have no complaint legally. If she is spreading lies, for example that you take cocaine, then you have a complaint and could sue her.
Answer Applies to: Nevada
Replied: 4/1/2013
Henry Lebensbaum | Henry Lebensbaum
What is the defamation?
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
Replied: 4/1/2013
Law Offices of Mark West
Law Offices of Mark West | Mark West
I would say it depends what your coworker said. If all the coworker said was that you had cocaine in your locker/personal possession, then I do not believe that is defamation because it is the truth. If, however the comments went further than that and the person knew them to be untrue, you might have some recourse.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/1/2013
    S. Joseph Schramm | Joseph Schramm
    There is no defamation of character here. You admit that you made a couple of bad choices and the tech who found the cocaine had a legitimate reason to be concerned, given your other admission that many MDs are addicited . The person was simply acting on a natural conclusion to be drawn under the circumstances in reporting the incident and in attempting to prevent potential harm to other patients.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 4/1/2013
    David F. Stoddard
    David F. Stoddard | David F. Stoddard
    It would help if you could tell us specifically what the tech, or whoever, said, and to who. The elements of slander (the legal term for defamation of character)are: 1) publishing making a defamatory statement about someone, 2) that is false) 3) that causes damage. One has a qualified immunity from liability for slander if one has a legitimate reason for sharing the information with someone who has a legitimate interest in the information (ie. It is not just gossip). If the qualified immunity applies, you must prove that the individual made the statement with reckless disregard for the truth. I would suggest that the tech has a qualified immunity to disclose to the appropriate hospital staff that a doctor has cocaine on the premises (the boss). The qualified immunity would likely not apply to telling co-workers However, if the tech reported that he/she found cocaine in your locker, this is true and element#2 is not met. If the tech went further and reported that you are using drugs, this could be the basis of a slander suit. However, if the tech has no significant assets, you will not be able to collect a judgment. I suspect you will have a difficult time finding a lawyer to take this case on a contingency fee basis. A more realistic recourse may be to complain to the appropriate hospital official and try to have the tech disciplined the tech for spreading harmful rumors about a personnel matter. If the hospital thinks the tech did nothing wrong, a jury is unlikely to ward money.
    Answer Applies to: South Carolina
    Replied: 4/1/2013
    Richard B. Jacobson & Associates, LLC | Richard B. Jacobson
    Whatever recourse you might have is very limited. Truth, for one thing, is a defense to defamation. If the tech truthfully notified other people that there was cocaine in your pocket, you can't win an action for defamation. There are other obstacles: people have a privilege to report a crime, for example. Your superiors and colleagues who judge your work have a privilege to be mistaken. Also, it does not appear that you suffered any compensable damages. Take a nice long walk and after you are done driving for the day, have a drink. There is not likely to be any remedy for your anger except what you administer to yourself.
    Answer Applies to: Wisconsin
    Replied: 4/1/2013
    Lombardi Law Firm
    Lombardi Law Firm | Steve Lombardi
    A defamation case requires a false statement, what was the false statement? And how was it published?
    Answer Applies to: Iowa
    Replied: 4/1/2013
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    I do not think so. Wherever you are, your profession notwithstanding, I doubt seriously that your poessession was lawful. Further, based on your description of events, I do not believe the tech acted in an inappropriate manner.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    James E. Hasser, Jr. P.C.
    James E. Hasser, Jr. P.C. | Jim Hasser
    Actually, the legal cause would be slander, which is the claim for spoken word abuses. Defamation is for written word abuses. However, truth is a defense to both such claims. As such, I don't think you would succeed with a claim for slander. However, the real problem here is the tech going through your locker without your permission..that's trespass and an invasion of privacy! But, are you damages bad enough to warrant bringing even more attention to the fact you possessed cocaine, which is a crime? I think as a practical matter, you probably should let this one slide and hopefully, live and learn from the experience.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    Kram & Wooster, P.S. | Richard H. Wooster
    Wow, that really was bad judgment on your part. You don't explain how your "sister's" cocaine got in your pocket. However, perhaps you should speak to an addiction counselor about your "sister." Stay clean and keep working. You have complete control of your character. Other people influence your reputation. However, if something is said to damage your reputation that does not match your character, it won't stick. You know, like if someone tried to say Mother Theresa was engaged in human trafficking.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A.
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A. | Paul L. Whitfield
    Anesthesiologist. You should be 99th percentile and you do all these dumb things which you acknowledge as dumb and when it is time to pay for your foolishness you want to sue somebody? Truth is an absolute defense in NC to a defamation case and how are you defamed if the truth were told. Would you not want to know if your doctor was involved with high octane contraband and had a druggie living in the house with him. I would. You would too.think about it and maybe change your lifestyle if you expect people to rely on your judgment as between life and death.
    Answer Applies to: North Carolina
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    Law Office of William E Carter, LLC | William E Carter
    I do not handle matters involving this type of law. You will need to look for an attorney that handles this area of the law.
    Answer Applies to: Connecticut
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    Kelaher Law Offices, P.A.
    Kelaher Law Offices, P.A. | James P Kelaher
    Truth is a defense to slander.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    Coulter's Law
    Coulter's Law | Coulter K. Richardson
    She had qualified immunity to tell those who needed to know. She was looking out for the best interests of the hospital and its patients. It was a good-faith mistake on her part.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    Curry, Roby & Mulvey Co., LLC
    Curry, Roby & Mulvey Co., LLC | Bruce A. Curry
    I think that the tech may very well have qualified immunity against a defamation claim with respect to telling your boss. However, that same immunity would not apply if you can prove that the tech or your boss did, in fact, tell others about these facts. A stickier issue would be your damages which no doubt exist, but which are very difficult to quantify. An even stickier issue would be recovery against the tech, who probably does not have an ability to pay what you might consider a good settlement or judgment.
    Answer Applies to: Ohio
    Replied: 3/31/2013
    Peters Law, PLLC
    Peters Law, PLLC | Mark T. Peters, Sr.
    Sorry, but truth is a defense and you had cocaine on you. I don't think you can get around that?
    Answer Applies to: Idaho
    Replied: 3/31/2013
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