Your Practice – Case report
MPS Solicitor Mark Jordan describes a case where a defamatory claim against a doctor was successfully struck out
Attached to the request was a consent form recently signed by Mr J, providing his authority for Dr C to disclose any relevant information to the DVLA. It indicated that he did not wish to have sight of the report before it was submitted to the DVLA
Dr C had been on a short period of leave and when she returned she reviewed the post that had been received in her absence. In and amongst the assorted hospital correspondence and PMA requests, Dr C came across a letter from the DVLA seeking updated medical information in relation to a Mr J. Attached to the request was a consent form recently signed by Mr J, providing his authority for Dr C to disclose any relevant information to the DVLA. It indicated that he did not wish to have sight of the report before it was submitted to the DVLA.
Dr C had been Mr J's GP for several years and had assisted him primarily in relation to his difficulties with alcohol dependency. As a consequence of Mr J's alcohol dependency, which was corroborated by abnormal blood markers, the DVLA had revoked his licence for a period of one year, and this had led to Mr J being dismissed from his job as a salesman of commercial air-conditioning units. Unfortunately, this further compounded Mr Johnston's difficulties with alcohol, which culminated in a recent hospital admission as a result of acute alcohol intoxication (which was, once more corroborated by abnormal blood markers). The reason why the DVLA were now seeking updated medical information was to consider to whether or not it would be appropriate to reinstate Mr J's licence.
The request from the DVLA was in the form of a questionnaire and Dr C completed it in an entirely factual and reasonable way. In response to a question asking if there was any recent evidence of alcohol misuse (including binge drinking), Dr C provided information in relation to the recent hospital admission. Given that Mr J had provided his consent to share relevant information with the DVLA, and that he had not requested sight of the report before, Dr C submitted, the completed questionnaire. On the basis of the information provided, the DVLA determined that Mr J's licence would remain revoked until he could demonstrate a minimum period of controlled drinking (or abstinence) accompanied by the normalisation of the blood markers.
Several weeks later, Dr C was served with a Claim Form, in which she was the named defendant in an action of defamation brought by Mr J (acting as a litigant-in-person). The basis of the action was that the information was not true, it was provided without consent and that, as a consequence of the disclosure, the DVLA declined to reinstate Mr J's licence. Dr C did not feel that her actions were open to legitimate criticism and was left unnerved.
Dr C contacted MPS and was assisted by a medicolegal adviser and an in-house solicitor. The solicitor went on the record with the court on Dr C's behalf and made an application for the action to be struck out on the basis that the information provided was factually correct, provided with Mr J's consent and that it was a matter for the DVLA to decide as to whether or not Mr J was medically fit to drive.
The application for the action to be struck out was heard promptly by a County Court Judge who agreed that the claim had no basis and therefore struck out the action. Dr C was relieved that MPS were able to take over the correspondence and have the action struck out so promptly.
MPS medicolegal reports are an educational aid to MPS members and act as a risk management tool. The reports are based on issues arising in MPS cases from around the world. Unless otherwise stated, facts have been altered to preserve confidentiality.