(CN) – The Missouri Court of Appeals sent a doctor’s $1.75 million defamation award back to trial court, saying the doctor failed to show how he was damaged by a nurse’s opinion that he brought the firing on himself.
William Topper was fired from his position as a director of the neonatal intensive care units at Research and Centerpoint medical centers.
Topper sued for tortious interference and defamation, claiming administrators at Research doctored statistics to make it look like he deserved to get fired. A jury awarded him $5 million, including $1.75 million on his defamation claims.
But the appeals court ruled that the defamation award must go back to trial court for further review.
The award was partly based on a statement from clinical nurse leader Kathy Fox. A witness testified that Fox said Topper brought his termination on himself.
Judge Joseph Ellis ruled that Fox’s statement was opinion, not fact, and that Topper had not proven he was damaged by the statement.
However, the court ruled that Topper had been damaged by Research’s publication of false statistics on his department’s newborn mortality rate.
Dennis Beers, director of quality research, testified that he devised his own definition of a newborn, instead of the correct medical definition of a child up to 28 days old. Therefore, the mortality rate under Topper and his team was wrongfully inflated, Ellis ruled.
“A misrepresentation of the mortality rate for a doctor can be sufficient to support a defamation claim,” the judge wrote.
Ellis remanded the case to trial court for a determination of how much of the defamation case can be attributed to Fox’s statement and how much can be attributed to the false statistics.