SEPTEMBER 5, 2012
“Minnesota Supreme Court Hears Duluth Neurologist’s Defamation Lawsuit”
Mobility Tech Zone Website
The Duluth News Tribune and McClatchy Tribune Information Services report that the Minnesota Supreme Court heard the case of a Duluth neurologist Tuesday who sued a patient’s son after being criticized on rate-your-doctor websites for his bedside manner.
Dr. David McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, Duluth, Minnesota, filed the defamation lawsuit against Dennis Laurion of Duluth. McKee alleged that Laurion defamed him and interfered with his business by posting false statements on the Internet and to various third parties, including 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.
Defendant Laurion claimed that any statements he made about the doctor were true and that he is immune from any liability to the plaintiff. McKee is asking for more than $50,000 in damages.
State District Judge Eric Hylden last year ruled that McKee was not defamed by the criticism and dismissed the doctor’s lawsuit. McKee appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and in January that court sent the case back to the district court for a jury to decide if six statements Laurion posted about McKee on rate-your-doctor websites and distributed elsewhere were defamatory.
Laurion appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and the case was heard in St. Paul on Tuesday. Duluth attorney John Kelly presented Laurion’s position to the high court. “I argued that the posting to a website is part of the context that colors or shapes what Mr. Laurion was trying to do, and the essential nature of one of these websites is to provide subjective feedback, and people get lots of subjective feedback from different perspectives and from different experiences,” Kelly said. “I believe that people going to these websites don’t expect any one recitation or report to be definitive. They’re looking for a range. So seen in that light, what Mr. Laurion was doing was offering his view of an encounter and his overall impression was that the doctor hadn’t responded as well, or wasn’t as respectful, toward his father as he would have hoped.” To establish a defamation claim, a party must prove that the defendant communicated to a third party a factual assertion that is false and tends to harm a plaintiff’s reputation in the community.
Laurion was critical of how his father, Kenneth, now 87, and his family were treated by McKee after his father suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and spent four days at St. Luke’s Hospital.
Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick represented McKee before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. “We argued to the court that Mr. Laurion published both on the Internet and to approximately 20 others, including medical organizations, false statements about Dr. McKee that disparaged his professional abilities and hurt his reputation,” Tanick said. “We asked the court to affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals so that Dr. McKee has the opportunity to present this to a jury and get his day in court.” The Court of Appeals determined that McKee’s defamation suit should proceed regarding these six claims Laurion publicly made about the doctor:
- McKee told the patient he had to “spend time finding out if you were transferred or died.”
- McKee said, “44 percent of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option.”
- McKee said, “You don’t need therapy.”
- McKee said, “It doesn’t matter” that the patient’s gown did not cover his backside.
- McKee left the patient’s room without talking to the patient’s family.
- A nurse told Laurion that McKee was “a real tool.”