Can I Sue Over Being Called An Idiot?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors:

I need to know if I can sue an outraged doctor for calling me an idiot in front of patients, colleagues and my bosses.

Signed, Angry

Dear Angry:

We’re not attorneys, but I can tell you that generally it is the totality of the situation that indicates whether there has been defamation of character that rises to the level of claiming civil damages. Consult an attorney who specializes in civil claims and ask for a free cursory analysis of the situation. Have an informal transcription of the complete dialogue, without any embellishments. Also have an overview of the situation that led to the comments. List witnesses.

But the most important thing is this: What serious harm was caused by the remarks? To show that you were damaged you will probably need to show that your career or your ability to make money in the future was damaged. An attorney could guide you about that issue. If the doctor was “outraged” as you state, it could be that he was angry over something that he could use as a reason for his outburst. Or, he may be able to show past problems and relate them to this recent incident. You would need to overcome those allegations. It could be that he is known for such outbursts. In that case he has probably been allowed to act like a rude jerk for so long he thinks it’s normal. Those are the worst kind of situations to stop.

Instead of thinking court action, consider talking to your bosses and ask them what they think you should do. If they realize you were not at fault and think the doctor was in the wrong, you will probably not be harmed by being called an idiot anyway. They will know he is unfair and obnoxious. The patients probably felt sorry for you, unless you were doing something that harmed them. Your colleagues know that they could be next. Your reputation and work history can dilute any kind of negative remarks. But, if you have had problems in the past or are not well-respected, the negative remarks may be seen as justifiable. That is why it will be good to take the time to look at the totality of the situation before making a decision about your next action. However, asking for a free consultation may give you some needed insight about the threshold for a civil lawsuit. Best wishes to you with this.

I hope whatever led to the unfortunate situation will be resolved soon. We frequently hear about medical professionals who are insensitive and rude. Your situation would certainly fit that type of personality and would be incredibly challenging to deal with. Usually people just end up avoiding that person when possible. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide and what happens with this.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.