Bankruptcy Cannot Protect Doctor’s Debt to Nurse Practitioner

Doctor’s debt to nurse practitioner

Ms. J had been a Certified Adult Practitioner (NP), in her state, when Dr. C, an infectious-disease specialist, hired. Ms. J had a job that included communicating with patients, collecting patient information, and making preliminary visits to hospitals.

Ms. J discovered after months of work that the position was not suitable. She decided to wait until Ms. J had worked for at least a year before giving her resignation. He seemed happy with his work as demonstrated by the positive reviews he gave hospitals where Ms. J had privileges.

Ms. J had worked for Dr. C about a year. She prepared an evaluation of her performance. Dr. C rated her as “excellent” in each category. She also stated that there had been no complaints. Ms. J accepted a job in an alternative infectious disease practice, which she felt was more suitable for her. She gave Dr. C her resignation letter, along with 3 weeks’ notice, as per their agreement and filed to Chpt. 13 Bankruptcy.

Dr. C didn’t take the news well. Ms. J expressed shock and surprise at his decision to quit “a wonderful work relationship”. After Dr. C received the resignation letter, he met Ms. J twice. Dr. C tried to convince Mrs. J to stay in his office during the first meeting. This was the week she gave notice. Mrs. J refused. After Dr. C had learned that Ms. J was moving to a competitor in the first meeting, Mrs. J refused. He sent her a criticism letter, which criticized his professional competence, work ethic and moral character, during this meeting. He said he would write the letter to the Nursing Board and other groups and suggested Ms. J may want to reconsider her decision about quitting practice.

Ms. J still believes the same. Dr C sent the letters to the National Board of Nursing, and to the hospitals in which Ms. J had privileges. The Nursing Commission launched an investigation and temporarily suspended her hospital privileges.

Dr. C defended Dr. J’s letter to Board of Nursing. He claimed that he had incorrectly rated Mrs. J as “excellent” and provided the assessment for another NP.

After a nine-month investigation and review, Ms. J was found not guilty of any wrongdoing by the Board of Nurses.

Ms. J lost her job almost a whole year because her employer, the Nursing Commission, refused to hire. Ms. J hired Dr. C as a lawyer after the Board of Nursing’s decision.

The case was taken to trial by a jury. In the end, it was concluded that the doctor’s statements concerning Ms. J had been false and had damaged her career. The jury rejected Dr C’s argument, stating that the letter was not meant to harm Ms. J but to protect her future patient.

The jury found that Ms. J was guilty of making false statements and awarded her $150,000 for any damage to her professional image. Dr. C declared bankrupt and requested that all his debts including those owed by Ms. J be discharged under Chapter 11 U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Ms. J appealed before the United States Bankruptcy Court to declare the debt non-reliable.

The court’s ruling

The court noted that Section 523, a) (6), of the Bankruptcy Code prohibits discharge of debts for “intentional and malign injury to another entity or property of another entity”. To prevail, Dr C must prove that the debtor (Dr C),: 1) deliberately and intently, 2) damaged the plaintiff or his property; and 3) committed a willful and malicious action. The Court noted that will and malice can be distinguished. Will implies intentional behavior; malice connotes a malicious design.

The court acknowledged that many of the facts had already been established in the lawsuit. These facts also established that Dr. C had willfully and deliberately damaged Ms. J. ‘s reputation, career, and prospects. To determine whether false statements were made “willfully & maliciously”.

The court ruled Dr C wrote the letter with the voluntary component in mind. This was initially intended as a threat against Ms J. and sent it to her Board of Nursing and to hospitals where Mrs. J practiced. The court found Dr C to be very intelligent and predicted exactly what would happen. A probe would start and Ms J might lose her practice license. They agreed that the statements were made freely.

According to court records, Dr C also sent a malicious letter. He made defamatory and false statements intended to harm Ms. He made the statements not with an altruistic motive to help future patient, as he claimed. However, he did so out of anger at Ms. J. work for a rival. The court ruled Dr. C was malicious, willful, and intent to damage Ms. J’s professional image and that Dr. C’s debts to her could not be discharged via bankruptcy.

To Protect Yourself

This scenario was complicated and took many years. This bankruptcy court ruling was made in 2020. The first events occurred in 2005. Lawsuits are often very lengthy.

It’s always better to act professional. Dr. C immediately reacted with emotion and anger to the news of his employee’s resignation. He escalated his unprofessional behavior by sending Ms. J a false letter. He carried out the threat even though it didn’t work. Is he entitled to be upset over the departure of a valuable employee? Yes. But that shouldn’t have been all. Everything else he did was unprofessional and incorrect.

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