Articles and Case Studies

Allegation of Defamation

01 Jun 2017

sara bird

by Dr Sara Bird

defamation

Consider this case history. A number of concerns had recently been raised by staff about the conduct of the Head of Department (HOD).

There had been questions about whether some of the procedures he performed were clinically indicated, and there had been difficult interactions with registrars and theatre staff.

A meeting was held between the other Visiting Medical Officers (VMOs) where the concerns were discussed with a view to deciding what action should be taken.

Two days after this meeting, one of the VMOs received a letter from solicitors acting on behalf of the HOD. The letter stated that the HOD had been informed that the VMO had made a number of false and defamatory statements about him at the meeting. The letter concluded:

We require you to:

  • immediately cease and desist from making false statements about our client
  • inform each VMO at the meeting, in writing, that the statements you made about the HOD were false, and provide copies and proof of service of those letters to us
  • offer an unreserved written apology to the HOD within two days.

We inform you that if you do not undertake these steps, or you continue to make false and defamatory statements about our client, he will take legal action against you to protect his reputation and seek compensation for damages he has suffered due to your conduct.

Medico-legal issues

The VMO sought advice and support from MDA National. Following the discussion with our Member, a response was sent to the solicitors as follows:

We refer to your correspondence and please ensure any further correspondence is directed to the writer.

Dr Z has not made any false or defamatory statements about your client. Such behaviour is entirely at odds with Dr Z’s interactions with his colleagues, including your client, and his commitment to patient care over many years of practice within the hospital.

Against this background, no correspondence will be sent to the VMOs who attended the meeting that contains the matters requested by your client. Nor will Dr Z provide an apology to your client, as he has not acted in a manner that requires him to do so.

The VMO received no further correspondence from the solicitors. The concerns about the HOD were provided to the Medical Director, and an investigation was commenced into his conduct.

Discussion

MDA National Insurance’s Professional Indemnity Insurance Policy (PIIP) currently provides cover for defamation claims arising out of:

  • Members reporting an incident or a registered healthcare professional to a hospital, area health authority or professional body, in good faith and in the public interest
  • Members participating in the examination of such an incident or the registered healthcare professional.

Medical practitioners can also be the subject of defamation claims in their provision of healthcare services – which includes supervision; training and mentoring other healthcare professionals; providing a healthcare report or opinion; writing for healthcare journals; and providing advice on a person’s fitness to carry out certain duties. We are committed to supporting our Members in these additional scenarios.

Effective 1 July 2017, the cover under the PIIP has been expanded to civil liability claims including legal costs arising from defamation by medical practitioners in the course of their provision of healthcare services, subject to certain terms and conditions.

The Policy will also cover legal costs for pursuing a defamation allegation against another person who is not a healthcare professional, if it arises from defamation of you as a medical practitioner or directly in relation to healthcare services you provide.

For further details about this cover, please refer to the Supplementary Financial Services Guide (FSG) & Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) including Endorsement to the Policy Wording V.11 enclosed with your Renewal Notice, or contact our Member Services Team on 1800 011 255 or peaceofmind@mdanational.com.au.


Dr Sara Bird
Manager, Medico-legal and Advisory Services
MDA National

Communication with Colleagues, Employment Essentials, Regulation and Legislation, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics, Independent Medical Assessor - IME
 

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