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For Delegate Rodman to Call Senator (and MD) Dunnavant a “QUACK” is Potentially Libelous!

I Am Not Recommending A Lawsuit BUT It is Possible

Politifact Virginia found the Del. Rodman claim about Senator Dunnavant introducing a bill that would deny Virginians of health insurance covering pre-existing conditions is FALSE.

But that is nothing compared to the report in the Politifact article:

Rodman made the same charge on at least three glossy mailers she sent to voters in late September. One of them particularly got the ire of Dunnavant, a physician. “What do you call a doctor who wrote a bill that would let insurers deny coverage for pre-existing conditions?” it asks. Next to the words is a picture of a duck with the caption “QUACK.”

But calling a physician a “quack” is very serious: It can be libel per se, meaning it is libel (because the mailer is written materials it is libel and not slander which is oral communication) on its face without further explanation.

The highest court in the State of New York (not called the Supreme Court but rather the Court of Appeals) held this (emphasis added):

To say of a minister that he is immoral, of a lawyer that he is an ignoramus, a drunkard, or a cheat, of an architect or a teller of a bank that he is crazy, of a physician that he is a humbug, or a quack, or a butcher, or a blockhead, or a quacksalver, or an empiric, or a mountebank, or that he is no scholar, or that his diploma is worthless, has been held actionable per se, as touching the vocation.

Bornmann v. Star Co., 174 N.Y. 212, 66 N.E. 723 (N.Y., 1903)

In accord with that rule is the Illinois appellate court (emphasis added):

Applications of this rule are found in the cases of clergymen, physicians, lawyers, tradesmen, mechanics, etc. Thus, to accuse a clergyman of incontinence, a physician of being a quack or humbug, a lawyer of being an ignoramus, a watchmaker of being a bungler, when spoken of them in their respective callings, is actionable per se, without proof of special damage.

Clifford v. John C. Cochrane., 10 Ill.App. 570, 10 Bradw. 570 (Ill. App., 1882)

Finally the Supreme Court of Kentucky held (emphasis added):

As defamatory words, either spoken or written, of a person in respect to his office or employment, as to say of a physician “he is an empiric” or “a quack,” are actionable per se…[if this physician is truly a licensed physician – which was an issue in the case].

Hargan v. Purdy, 93 Ky. 424 (Ky. Ct. App., 1892)

I think this kind of charge crosses the line. An apology is in order. Voters should take this into consideration when they vote November 5.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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