MAY 2, 2011
“Physicians Who Sue Patients Don’t Get What They Want”
A physician claiming he was defamed online by a former patient’s son lost his court case after the judge dismissed the suit. The case illustrates the perils of suing when a patient criticizes a physician online.
The judge in the case said that the patient’s son expressed emotional responses to his father’s care on the Internet, but that’s allowed in society. And, the judge wrote, expressing it on the Internet doesn’t make the opinions more defamatory.
Patient feedback via the Internet can be negative, anonymous, and even unfair, and physicians often sue to protect carefully cultivated professional reputations. For example, plastic surgeon Kimberly Henry, MD, is pursuing by their online aliases 12 defendants who posted critical comments. That case is ongoing.
The case in Minnesota was against one known defendant, the son of a patient who alleged that neurosurgeon (sic) David McKee, MD, became upset in consulting with the family about the patient’s condition, and that McKee didn’t treat the patient with dignity.
The lawsuit alleged that the son complained to 19 medical and professional societies, government agencies at all levels, the hospital and to other physicians (as well as posted Internet comments using several aliases).
The neurologist told the Duluth News Tribune that, “I’ll make the observation that every one of those organizations that was required to make an official decision or take an official action either determined that the statement that he made was so ludicrous that it required no response from me at all or decided that his complaint had no merit.”
But the judge decided that physician’s complaints didn’t merit a jury’s consideration.
“In modern society, there needs to be some give and take, some ability for parties to air their differences,” the judge wrote. “Today, those disagreements may take place on various Internet sources. Because the medium has changed, however, does not make statements of this sort any more or less defamatory.”
The outcomes for physicians who sue patients for online reviews can be mixed, at best. California dentist Gelareh Rahbar, DDS, sued a former patient who described a procedure as “mouth torture.” But a judge tossed the suit under the state’s anti-SLAPP law, which stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation–any attempt to use the courts to squelch allowed free speech. The dentist had to pay $43,000 for his patient’s legal fees.
Anonymous said: The judge’s order has been publicly posted.
Ryan DuBosar said: In an update to this post, the physician involved has filed an appeal to the dismissal of his suit, claiming that the alleged defamation by his former patient’s son not only continued, but increased.
Reddit Reader said: The Minnesota Court Of Appeals has scheduled David McKee MD v Dennis Laurion for a hearing by a panel of three judges. The oral hearing will be November 10, 2011, at 10:00 AM in the Sixth District Court House of Duluth.