Doctor Defamation Case Study: To Salvage Reputation
We came across this old, unpublished blog post. The doctor defamation case discussed within is old, but the information regarding professional defamation is solid. If you’re a medical professional looking to pursue a slander or libel lawsuit, get in touch here.
After bribing a senator, a California hospital executive filed a defamation lawsuit against detractors. Does he have a chance at winning a slander suit, despite his already spoiled reputation?
Can a “discredited” hospital executive save his reputation via a defamation lawsuit? Dr. Michael Drobot hopes so, but slander and libel laws may prevent it. Below, we’ll review the case and examine some legal concepts germane to professional doctor defamation lawsuits.
Defamation Case Study: Guilty Doctor v. Opposition Attorneys
Ousted CEO of the now defunct Pacific Hospital of Long Beach (“PHLB”) Dr. Michael Drobot filed a defamation claim against a group of lawyers who’d successfully pinned him for fraud. No stranger to controversy, Drobot recently pleaded guilty to bribing state Sen. Ron Calderon and maintaining a “kickback” scheme during his tenure as PHLB’s top executive.
But this defamation lawsuit is not about the bribes or kickbacks, it’s about surgery screws used at PHLB. Apparently, during the course of Drobot’s fraud case, opposing lawyers said he authorized the use of “counterfeit” medical equipment, thus jeopardizing the well-being of hundreds of patients.
Since opposing lawyers first lobbed the “counterfeit screw” accusations, malpractice lawsuits have piled on Drobot’s doorstep.
How is Drobot battling back? By filing a defamation lawsuit.
Legal Considerations: Harm & Substantive Truth
This case raises a pair of pertinent questions regarding slander and libel law:
- What must a plaintiff prove to win a defamation lawsuit?
- If someone’s reputation is already in shambles, can he or she still win a defamation of character lawsuit?
Dr. Drobot’s Main Argument In His Doctor Defamation Lawsuit
Dr. Drobot’s main argument is straightforward: Counterfeit screws were never used at the Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.
His lawsuit claim is precise on the issue, reading:
“[Drobot] never purchased or used any ‘counterfeit’ screws or related parts for use in (Pacific Hospital) spinal surgeries.”
When asked about the lawsuit by a reporter, Drobot elaborated:
“Not only do they portray me as someone I am not, but they needlessly create incredible anxiety for hundreds of former patients at Pacific Hospital,” he said. “We did not compromise patient care at (Pacific Hospital).”
OK, so, for argument’s sake, let’s take Dr. Drobot at his word and, for the purposes of this analysis, assume that he’s telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
But is the truth enough to win this defamation lawsuit? Well, maybe not. Let’s break it down.
The four pillars of United States defamation law are:
- Publication (Broadcast);
- Harm; and
In other words, doctors can’t win slander or libel lawsuits if they can’t prove that the defendants:
- Aren’t lying;
- Didn’t publicly distribute the materials in question;
- Didn’t cause material or reputational harm (via the statements); and
- Didn’t realize that what they were saying was inaccurate.
In the case of Dr. Drobot, proving harm and negligence may be difficult because:
- His professional reputation has already been soiled; and
- The lawyers may have sufficient evidence to prove that they thought their statements were accurate. That’s the interesting crux of U.S. defamation law: if a defendant believes his or her statements – and can provide enough evidence of proper due diligence – even if the statement is wrong, the defendant can win.
Harm and previously Spoiled Reputations
Sometimes plaintiffs lose defamation lawsuits because their reputations are already tarnished coming into the lawsuit. For example, will you harm the reputation of a convicted murder by inaccurately reporting that he also robbed a store?
In this instance, Dr. Drobot has already admitted to bribery. His reputation has already been soiled. So, he may have a difficult time proving harm. However, since the statements under review have nothing to do with his efficacy as a medical professional, a judge may decide that his spoiled reputation as a government bribe-giver has nothing to do with the accusation of using “counterfeit” materials.
Dr. Drobot may also have to argue, nuance-by-nuance, the issue of negligence. Remember, the defendants are a group of attorneys, which means they probably have considerable evidence to support their assertions. Now, could the attorneys’ information be wrong? Absolutely. But remember, negligence isn’t necessarily about inaccuracies as it is intent and belief.
Defamation & Substantive Truth: Little Mistakes Don’t Qualify
It’s rare to win a defamation lawsuit over a small error.
Dr. Doe operates on seven people who die; a reporter says Dr. Doe had eight people pass away on his operating table. In this instance, Dr. Doe wouldn’t win a defamation lawsuit against the reporter because the minor error of eight instead of seven does not change the overall impression of the reporter’s statement. In essence, it’s not a “game changer.” The reporter’s piece was “substantially true,” thus inoculating the author from a defamation lawsuit loss.
However, Dr. Drobot’s case is not as straightforward. If Dr. D’s doctor defamation legal team tries to structure its entire argument on the contextual validity of “counterfeit,” the defense lawyers can use a “substantial truth” argument if – and this is a big IF – there’s proof that the screws were, at worst sub-par, at best, improperly (but benignly) represented to patients.
Speak With Lawyer Well-Versed In Doctor Defamation Cases
Kelly / Warner has successfully assisted professionals overcome various reputation challenges. Call or message today to start solving.