SEPTEMBER 5, 2012
“Is Online Assertion that Doctor Is ‘A Real Tool’ Protected Opinion? Minnesota Top Court Mulls the Issue”
Debra Cassens Weiss, American Bar Association Journal
An assertion that a Duluth neurologist is “a real tool” is at the center of a defamation battle pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Dennis Laurion criticized Dr. David McKee’s bedside manner on several doctor-rating websites, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. McKee had treated Laurion’s elderly father after a stroke, and Laurion perceived the doctor as insensitive. “When I mentioned Dr. McKee’s name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, ‘Dr. McKee is a real tool!’ ” Laurion wrote.
McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, told the Justices his client’s defamation suit should be allowed to go to trial, the story says. Tanick argued before the court on Tuesday that Laurion made up the “tool” quote, just as he made up part of the encounter with McKee. Laurion’s online reviews went beyond opinion, Tanick said.
Laurion’s lawyer, John Kelly, countered that people “ought to have a degree of latitude in expressing their opinion.” He said the word “tool” is no worse than “calling someone an idiot or a fool.”
Dr. Phun: He does sound like a real tool!
OKBankLaw: It’s been awhile since Torts, but the defense to Defamation is Truth, correct? Does the doctor really want the defendant proving in open court that said doctor is a tool? Because filing this lawsuit in the first place, might be a good first step to proving the Truth of the statement.
Qwerty: Truth is a defense to defamation. As only a “tool” would file suit for being called a “tool,” the Dr. appears to have lost his case simply by bringing it.
Deborah Kennedy: We suppose that the good doctor’s counsel has a verifiable manner by which he can prove the assertion that indeed the quote attributed to a nurse was actually fabricated by Mr. Laurion; if not, the description of the doctor as a “real tool” will only be the beginning of his problems. Even so, where’s the substance for the court to address? Sticks and stones, eh?
Ken: you commenters lurk on craigslist all day long, don’t you?
Avon: I think the lawyers on both sides are the biggest tools here. They seem to be equally oblivious to the concept that if it’s pure opinion then it’s not actionable. They deserve each other. And if they ever do get to a jury, the common-sense outcome will most likely be just what the law provides – nonsuit, and perhaps sanctionable nonsense. If the doctor wanted to sue and got the lousy advice that he could do so, I feel sorry for him (and his adversary party). But if he just got a lawyer as a tool to do his bidding, then he should get screwed by it.