The Top Lawsuits Of 2013

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December 20, 2013

“Never Shout ‘He’s a Tool!’ On a Crowded Website?”

Steve Kaplan, Twin Cities Business

Dr. David McKee, a Duluth neurologist, was not laughing when he saw what one former client wrote about him on a doctor-rating website. The reviewer, Dennis Laurion, complained that McKee made statements that he interpreted as rude and quoted a nurse who had called the doctor “a real tool.” As these statements echoed through the Internet, McKee felt his reputation was being tarnished. He sued, and so began a four-year journey that ended this year in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Laurion was unhappy with the way McKee treated his father, who was brought to the doctor after he had a stroke. Laurion went to several rate-your-doctor sites to give his opinion. That’s just free speech, isn’t it?

It sure is, says Laurion’s attorney, John D. Kelly of the Duluth firm Hanft Fride. “The court held that what my client was quoted as saying was not defamatory,” he says. “I do think the Internet makes it much easier for persons exercising poor judgment to broadcast defamatory statements, however… a medium… doesn’t change the quality of a statement from non-defamatory to defamatory.”

Mckee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, of Hellmuth & Johnson, says no matter where it was said, defamation is defamation. “The thing that’s often misunderstood is that this was not just about free speech, but about making actual false statements,” Tanick says. “The problem is today’s unfettered opportunity to express opinion, whether or not the substance of what’s said is true or not. we need some boundaries.”

But boundaries were not on the minds of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Free speech was. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote, “The point of the post is, ‘This doctor did not treat my father well.’ I can’t grasp why that wouldn’t be protected opinion.” As to referring to the doctor as “a real tool,” Justice Alan Page wrote that the insult “falls into the category of pure opinion because the term … cannot be reasonably interpreted as a fact and it cannot be proven true or false.”

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Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Web Posting

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply To Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Cease And Desist Letter To Defendant Dennis Laurion

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Complaint To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint To Sixth Judicial District Duluth Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Response To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Answer To Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Motion For Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Deposition Extracts

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances Before Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances After Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony In Response To Questions By Marshall Tanick

Affidavits By Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Parents

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Supplemental Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Motion To Oppose Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Memo In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment

Sixth Judicial District Court’s Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Appeal Of Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Order To Strike Portion Of Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Announces Decision

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Petition For Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Opposition To Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Minnesota Supreme Court Decision On David McKee MD V. Dennis K. Laurion

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2010

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2011

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2012

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2013

McKee V Laurion Is A Textbook Case

Sagun Tuli, MD V. Gary Votour

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2013

“Doctors, Patients Battle Over Online Critiques”

Liz Kowalczyk, Boston Globe

Gary Votour’s wife, Lyn, died of complications from bone cancer and soon after, he blogged about his dissatisfaction with the medical care Dr. Sagun Tuli had given her. Dr. Tuli filed a $100,000 defamation lawsuit against him in Middlesex Superior Court in February.

Votour – who owes thousands of dollars in credit card debt for expenses related to Lyn’s illness – was taken under the wing of major Boston lawfirm, WilmerHale, which agreed to represent him free of charge.

The case was moved to federal court in Boston and Votour’s attorney, Adam Hornstine, has filed a motion to dismiss Tuli’s lawsuit. The firm believes the case may have broader implications: Among other reasons, Hornstine has filed a potential challenge with the court and Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office to a state law that can hold people liable for making true statements under certain circumstances, which he argues is unconstitutional. “It’s an affirmative defense protecting my right to free speech,’’ said Votour, who said he posted the blog because Tuli refused to meet with him to answer questions about a stroke his wife suffered during surgery.

While Votour took down his blog in February, he said settlement talks with Tuli have failed so far.

Tuli’s attorney, David Rich, said he could not comment on the case. But he told me last Spring that Votour’s criticisms were false and that the blog damaged his client’s career.

This lawsuit is part of a wave of claims brought by doctors against former patients, and sometimes their relatives, over negative ratings and reviews they have posted on the Internet. These reviews have shifted the balance of power among doctors and patients.

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Larry Emmot, DDS, Offers Conclusions About Defamation Suit By Yvonne Wong, DDS

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AUGUST 22, 2013

“The Perils Of Fighting Negative Online Reviews In The Courts”

Dr. Larry Emmott, DDS, Emmott on Technology

Online user reviews have become incredibly powerful. Unfortunately the system as it now stands is deeply flawed, ripe for abuse, inherently corrupt. Professionals, especially dentists, are prime targets with virtually no legal protection. As a dental professional your reputation is golden, it is a large part of the value of your practice. Anything that damages that reputation can have significant financial, professional and even legal consequences.

In the past if you had an unhappy patient, and even good dentists will have unhappy patients, he or she might complain to one person at work or a neighbor. At most a handful of people would hear the rant. Today if they post on Google or Yelp, hundreds of people will see it including every potential new patient who Googles your office to find the phone number and address.

If you are the victim of a false or malicious review can you seek a legal remedy? So far the answer is no, the courts both the legal courts and the court of public opinion have clearly come down on the side of the reviewer and against the dentist. Attempts by dentists to protect themselves with legal intervention have led to disaster.

As reported in the ADA News and elsewhere in 2009 Dr. Yvonne Wong a pediatric dentist filed a defamation lawsuit against a patient’s parents and Yelp. In her opinion the Yelp review was false and defamatory. The first court to rule was the court of public opinion. Do you think the typical person reading about this incident was sympathetic to the dentist? Do you think they thought oh, this poor dentist is being lied about? No, the typical response based on media comments was she must be a horrible dentist if she has to sue her patients not to say bad things about her.

Next the state courts ruled and not only did they dismiss the suit but ordered Dr. Wong to pay Yelp and the parents over $80,000 in court costs and fees.

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