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.