MAY 16, 2011
“Minnesota Doctor Loses Effort To Sue Patient’s Son For Defamation About His Allegedly Poor Bedside Manners”
Jonathan Turley, JONATHAN TURLEY BLOG
Dr. David McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, has failed in his bid to sue the son of a former patient for complaining about his bedside manners, including statements to professional associations and posting comments on the Internet. Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden wisely dismissed the action.
According to [ an article in the DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE ], Dennis Laurion of Duluth complained to the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, two physicians in Duluth, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee and St. Luke’s hospital, among others.
His father, Kenneth Laurion, Dennis was shocked by what he viewed as McKee poor treatment of his father. Dennis listed an array of statements that he said were made by McKee including:
- Angry comments by McKee over the fact that Laurion had been transferred from the Intensive Care Unit to a ward room;
- Verbal complaint by McKee that he had to “spend time finding out if [the patient] had been transferred or died;”
- Observations that 44 percent of hemorrhagic stroke victims die within 30 days;
- Dismissive statements that Laurion didn’t need therapy;
- Dismissive statements that he did not care about the fact that the patient’s gown was hanging from his neck with his backside exposed;
- Blaming the patient for the loss of his time; and
- Generally treating Laurion with a lack of respect or dignity.
These appear to be opinions that are generally not actionable. The line between opinion and fact can be a precious one as shown in reviews of customers and critics of other businesses. The case reminds one of Mr. Chow of New York v. Ste. Jour Azur, 759 F.2d 219, (2d Cir. 1985), where a Chinese restaurant sued a food critic for a negative review. The reviewer made the following allegedly libelous comments:
(1) “It is impossible to have the basic condiments … on the table.”
(2) “The sweet and sour pork contained more dough … than meat.”
(3) “The green peppers … remained still frozen on the plate.”
(4) The rice was “soaking … in oil.”
(5) The Peking Duck “was made up of only one dish (instead of the traditional three).”
(6) The pancakes were “the thickness of a finger.”
The jury found for the restaurant and awarded $20,000 in compensatory and $5 in punitive damages. However, the court of appeals reversed and found that the statements were protected as “opinion.” Notably, the statement about the Peking Duck came closest in the court’s view since it was a factual statement, but the court still found that it would not support the verdict due to the absence of malice.
Judge Hylden wrote: “In modern society, there needs to be some give and take, some ability for parties to air their differences. 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.”
According to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice website, McKee has had no disciplinary actions brought against him.
Dr. McKee seemed intent on responding to the case but giving his own example of protected opinion: “Dennis Laurion is a liar and a bully and a coward. He knowingly made false and malicious statements about me to a total of 19 different professional and medical organizations, regulatory agencies and websites. He often used false names and attributed his statements to fictitious third parties. 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.”