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It appears I was maligned by an infant's father and reprimanded. Can I sue him for slander?

Friday July 6, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

I had an infantís father request that I not care for his child. This was after I reminded him of our visiting policy when he was violating the rules. Since then, it seems he has maligned me and a few other nurses and requested that two other nurses not care for his infant as well. I have been there 15 years and have a great nursing record. For this incident, I was called in to the administration. I feel he compromised my reputation on the unit. My question is, can I sue him for slander?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Darcy,

Slander, one of the "twin torts" of defamation (the other is libel) is a legal cause of action that can be filed when someone speaks untruths about you that damage your reputation and does so to a third party. When the untruths or false statements are made in relation to your profession (e.g., "Mary Smith is an incompetent nurse."), the law calls it Slander, per se, because it damages your reputation as a professional and therefore the person defamed does not need to prove damages (e.g., lost job, inability to get a job) in court.

It is not known what this particular person said about you or to whom he said it, so whether or not he did slander you, and to whom, is something only a nurse attorney or attorney can advise you about. You need to seek an opinion from an attorney in your state as soon as you can, in order to know what your options are in this situation.

Clearly, nursing administration was informed of something about you, most likely by this particular father. Again, what he said is not included in your question, but his report to nursing administration will need to be discussed with your attorney also.

Your attorney likely will discuss with you the fact that the law of defamation is fairly complex. There are many factors that are evaluated in determining if something spoken is slanderous, one being if the words spoken were understood as slanderous. This is a question for the jury when a defamation case is filed. The jury must take into account the circumstances surrounding the statement, including whether the statement was intended to be a joke or if anyone who heard the statement interpreted it in a defamatory way.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.