NOVEMBER 10, 2011
“Duluth Doctor Requests Jury Trial Over Alleged Defamation”
Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune
The case of a Duluth neurologist who sued the relative of a patient for publicly criticizing his bedside manner was in court again on Thursday.
A Duluth judge ruled in April that Dr. David McKee was not defamed by the criticism and threw out the doctor’s lawsuit. McKee’s attorney argued Thursday to the Minnesota Court of Appeals that a jury should determine whether his client was defamed.
McKee contends Dennis Laurion of Duluth defamed him by making false statements to the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee and St. Luke’s hospital, among others. Laurion was critical of the treatment his father, Kenneth, received from McKee after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke and spending four days at St. Luke’s hospital.
“The doctor maintains he was vilified unjustly and inaccurately on the Internet and in postings and correspondence to colleagues and peers and thinks that Mr. Laurion falsified statements and incidents that did not occur,” Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick said outside the courtroom after the hearing. “We maintain the case should be submitted to a jury to ensure that Dr. McKee and Mr. Laurion have their day in court so that the jury may determine this important issue.”
Tanick told the panel his client is a highly regarded neurologist who has been defamed by Laurion’s comments, which appear pervasively on the Internet and falsely portray McKee as being insensitive and incompetent. Tanick said his client denies saying some of the things Laurion claimed he said.
In his suit, McKee alleged that Laurion made false statements including that McKee “seemed upset” that Kenneth Laurion had been transferred from the Intensive Care Unit to a ward room; that McKee told the Laurion family that he had to “spend time finding out if [the patient] had been transferred or died;” that McKee told the Laurions that 44 percent of hemorrhagic stroke victims die within 30 days; that McKee told the patient that he didn’t need therapy; that McKee said it didn’t matter that the patient’s gown was hanging from his neck with his backside exposed; that McKee blamed the patient for the loss of his time; and that McKee didn’t treat his patient with dignity.
A fair amount of argument was devoted to Laurion publishing the comment that Mckee was “a real tool,” something Laurion said was told to him by a nurse. Tanick said he hired a private investigator to find the nurse who allegedly made that comment .
Duluth attorney John Kelly, who represents Laurion, said after the hearing that for a statement to be defamatory it has to be untrue, it has to be published and it has to cause damage. Kelly said language that is so vague that it can’t be determined if it is true or false is not defamatory.
“If you call a guy a tool, or if you say somebody is a tool, is that any different than calling them a jerk?” Kelly said rhetorically. “We know from case law that to call somebody a jerk may be unkind, but it is not defamatory. … That is the question they (the court of appeals) are going to have to wrestle with. They have to decide if these 11 assertions the plaintiff identified in the complaint are capable of being defined with a defamatory meaning or have been uttered in a defamatory way.”