Arizona Cardiologist Called An Idiot By Colleague Loses His Defamation Appeal

An Arizona cardiologist who was called “an idiot” by a colleague because he allegedly administered blood thinner to an obvious case of intracerebral hemorrhage lost his appeal to the Arizona Court of Appeals Division One. The Arizona Appeals Court held in its opinion dated August 10, 2021: “Viewed in context, Del Giorno’s “angry” statement to a fellow physician that Sharifi is “an idiot”clearly did not suggest that Sharifi, a board-certified specialist in cardiovascular medicine, suffers from an extreme intellectual disability, as the term “idiot” was historically used in both medical and educational settings.”

“Instead, consistent with the modern understanding of the word and common usage, Del Giorno was expressing his belief that Sharifi acted foolishly. See id. (defining “idiot” as “a foolish or stupid person”). Because assessments like these of foolishness or stupidity are subjective determinations, there is no means to establish their truth or falsity. In other words, a statement that someone is an idiot is inherently a statement of opinion, not objective fact … Therefore, we agree with the superior court that Del Giorno’s “idiot” statement is not actionable as a matter of law because it does not present “the kind of empirical question a fact-finder can resolve.””

The Arizona Appellate Court explained: “To support a claim for defamation, a statement about a private figure on a matter of private concern “must be false” and must bring the subject of the statement “into disrepute, contempt, or ridicule” or impeach the subject’s “honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation” … While any disparaging statement can cause reputational harm, a true statement cannot support a claim for defamation … As a matter of law, a statement is not actionable if it is comprised of “loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language” that cannot reasonably be interpreted as stating or implying facts “susceptible of being proved true or false” … In a case such as this, “[t]he key inquiry is whether the challenged expression, however labeled by defendant, would reasonably appear to state or imply assertions of objective fact … In this determination, the court should “‘consider the impression created by the words used as well as the general tenor of the expression, from the point of view of a reasonable person’at the time the statement was uttered and under the circumstances it was made.””

“While statements cast as subjective beliefs are generally insulated from defamation liability, “statements of opinion are actionable when they imply a false assertion of fact” … In other words, if a statement of opinion may be proven false, “it is actionable as defamatory,” … but a statement is not actionable if it does not present “the kind of empirical question a fact-finder can resolve” … Finally, “[t]o defeat a defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a defamation case, the plaintiff must present evidence ‘sufficient to establish a prima facie case with convincing clarity.’””

The Arizona Appellate Court stated in the present case: “To prove his defamation claim against Del Giorno, Sharifi relied primarily on the declaration of Dr. Suzanne Sorof, a cardiologist. As detailed in her brief statement, Sorof saw and heard Del Giorno talking to another cardiologist through a partially open door. She recounted that Del Giorno stated: “Sharifi is an idiot. We finished his venous career here and won’t let it continue anywhere at Banner. He gave tPA to an obvious case of intracerebral hemorrhage.” From Del Giorno’s tone and demeanor, Sorof concluded that he was “angry” … Sharifi neither denied that he administered blood thinner to the patient nor that she had an intracerebral hemorrhage. He argued instead that he was not an “idiot”and that the patient’s hemorrhage was not obvious at the time.”

The Arizona Appellate Court held: “as Del Giorno points out, the overall impression of his words, including his alleged angry tone and use of the term “idiot,” would not lead a reasonable listener to believe that he was making a statement of verifiable, medical fact. Because the record on summary judgment lacked clear and convincing evidence that a reasonable listener could have understood Del Giorno’s “obvious” statement as conveying an objective fact, the superior court properly entered summary judgment dismissing Sharifi’s defamation claim against him.”

Takieh, M.D. v. O’Meara, M.D., No. 1 CA-CV 20-0290.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 at 5:28 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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