ON POINT NEWS: “Judge Tosses Suit Over Bad Review Of Doctor’s Work”

 MAY 19, 2001

“Judge Tosses Suit Over Bad Review Of Doctor’s Work”

ON POINT NEWS

A Minnesota judge has boosted free-speech protections for online commentary by finding a neurologist cannot sue a patient’s son over criticisms of his bedside manner that allegedly damaged his professional reputation.

Dennis Laurion posted comments on doctor rating websites in which he vented about how Dr. David McKee of Duluth, Minn., treated his father while performing a neurological examination on him. Kenneth Laurion, 84, was recovering from a stroke at a hospital.

At one point in the examination, Dennis Laurion wrote, McKee said “it doesn’t matter” when someone mentioned that the patient’s gown had come open, exposing his backside.

Courts in California have allowed similar defamation cases to proceed, ruling that free-speech protections only apply to online criticism of medical professionals that “goes beyond a particular interaction between the parties and implicates matters of public concern that can affect many people.” Wong v. Jing, 189 Cal.App.4th 1354 (2010).

But St. Louis County District Court Judge Eric L. Hylden took a refreshingly direct approach in summarily dismissing McKee’s defamation lawsuit. “Taken as a whole, the statements in this case appear to be nothing more or less than one man’s description of shock at the way he and in particular his father were treated by his physician,” he said in a recent decision. He also suggested that Internet postings are as deserving of protection as other forms of speech: 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 kind any more or less defamatory.

After hearing of the decision, McKee exercised his First Amendment rights by describing Laurion as “a liar and a bully and a coward.” He said he would confer with his attorney before deciding whether to appeal.

Another thin-skinned doctor, Chicago plastic surgeon Jay Pensler, has filed no fewer than three defamation suits against patients who criticized him on Yelp and Citysearch. One of the defendants complained that he gave her “Frankenstein breasts.”

The Laurions had their fateful encounter with Dr. McKee at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth after Kenneth was moved from intensive care to a standard room. In his online postings, the younger Laurion said McKee was insensitive toward his father, telling him he’d had to “spend time finding out if you were transferred or died.”

He also quoted McKee as saying, “Forty-four percent of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option.”

McKee, who sued for more than $50,000 in damages in June 2010, alleged that all of Dennis Laurion’s statements were completely false. But “[l]ooking at the statements as a whole,” Hylden found no “defamatory meaning, but rather a sometimes emotional discussion of the issues.”

In the Wong case, a patient told Yelp readers that they should avoid pediatric dentist Dr. Yvonne Wong “like a disease.” A Chicago judge, meanwhile, refused to dismiss Dr. Pensler’s lawsuit against Elaina Bender, who said he was “a very bad plastic surgeon” who botched her breast surgery.

Admittedly, the criticisms of Wong and Pensler were more harshly-worded than those of Dr. McKee. But courts should follow Hylden’s sensible lead and protect the online expression of opinion about medical professionals.

As Bender said in her motion to dismiss, just as a court “may not bar those who yell in the street that ‘Dr. Pensler is a horrible doctor,’ online reviewers cannot be chained … [P]ublic forum websites such as Yelp.com and Citysearch.com are forums where expression should be encouraged by the courts as a matter of public policy.”

SOURCE

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

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