FEBRUARY 2, 2013
“Dennis Laurion Answers Questions After His Recent Win In Minnesota Supreme Court Against Dr. Mckee’s Lawsuit About Online Comments”
Maura Larkins, San Diego Education Report Blog
Below are questions asked of Dennis Laurion by interviewers during the lawsuit McKee vs Laurion. Sued for his comments in online rating sites and letters to medical groups, Laurion deferred answering those questions in the past but has now offered his answers in this venue.
1) First and foremost, how’s your dad doing? We’d love to learn a little more about his service to the country, as well.
ANSWER: My father had his stroke at age 84. He is now 88. He has difficulty with gait and balance. His speech and mental resources remain well. My father enlisted in the Navy at age 17 during World War II. By age 19, he was a Navy combat medic in the Solomon Islands, a Second Class Petty Officer, then the equivalent of an Army or Marine Corps Staff Sergeant. My father worked two jobs and supported a family while obtaining a Ph.B. and an M.S. in Geriatric Counseling. He was a Boy Scout leader, an Elder in his church, a high school teacher, and a systems analyst at the advent of the computer age.
2) Undoubtedly, this defamation case has caused some stress for your family. Would you like to talk a little about that?
ANSWER: This entire experience has been distressing to my family. We were initially shocked and blindsided by “jocular” comments made so soon after my father’s stroke by somebody who didn’t know us. We were overwhelmed by my being sued after posting a consumer opinion, and we were shocked by the rapidity with which it happened. It has been the 800 pound gorilla in the room. My parents would be 88-year-old witnesses. My mother and wife prefer no discussion, because they don’t want to think about it. Conversation with my father only reminds him of his anger over this situation. My siblings and children don’t often bring it up, because they don’t know how to say anything helpful. I have been demoralized by three years of being called “Defendant Laurion” in public documents. While being sued for defamation, I have been called a passive aggressive, an oddball, a liar, a coward, a bully, a malicious person, and a zealot family member. I’ve been said to have run a cottage industry vendetta, writing 19 letters, and posting 108 adverse Internet postings in person or through proxies. That’s not correct. In reality, I posted ratings at three consumer rating sites, deleted them, and never rewrote them again.
3) You know what they say about talking politics and money in mixed company, but would you care to talk about the financial situation this lawsuit has put you in?
ANSWER: The plaintiff’s first contact with me was a letter that said in part that he had the means and motivation to pursue me. The financial impact of being sued three years to date has been burdensome, a game of financial attrition that I haven’t wanted to play. The suit cost me the equivalent of two year’s net income – the same as 48 of my car payments plus 48 of my house payments. My family members had to dip into retirement funds to help me.
What it’s like for a patient or family member to be caught up in a case like this was already described by the plaintiff’s lawyer in a Star Tribune newspaper article, “Company sues over info put on Yahoo message board,” August 27, 2001, and repeated in http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2001/08/27/bus_321610.shtml . It said in part: “If a company sues, alleging simple business disparagement or perhaps defamation, its goal isn’t necessarily to win,” said Marshall Tanick, a First Amendment expert at Mansfield & Tanick in Minneapolis. “The strategy is to force the other person to incur huge legal expenses that will deter them and others from making such statements,” he said . . . “yet very few (cases) go all the way to trial and verdict,” Tanick said. Lawyers will seek ways to avoid First Amendment issues because they are difficult to win. One option is to allege breach of contract or violation of trade secrets rather than defamation,” he said.
4) You’ve probably learned lots about defamation law since this began, have you spoken with anyone else who is going through the same thing? Have they given you any invaluable insight? Support?
ANSWER: After receipt of a threat letter, I deleted my rate-your-doctor site postings and sent confirmation emails to opposing counsel. Since May of 2010, postings on the Internet by others include newspaper accounts of the lawsuit; readers’ remarks about the newspaper accounts; and blog opinion pieces written by doctors, lawyers, public relations professionals, patient advocates, and information technology experts. Dozens of websites by doctors, lawyers, patient advocates, medical students, law schools, consumer advocates, and free speech monitors posted opinions that a doctor or plumber shouldn’t sue the family of a customer for a bad rating. These authors never said they saw my deleted ratings – only the news coverage. Newspaper stories have caused people to call or write me to relate their own medical experiences. I’ve referred them to my lawyers. I’ve also received encouragement from other persons who have been sued over accusations of libel or slander.
5) Due to the publicity your case has received, has it affected your dealings with other medical professionals?
ANSWER: My wife, my mother, my father, and I each have a different doctor. Each of us continues to see his or her attending physician, as before. They’re all aware of this suit, but none has commented on it.
6) Do you feel like McKee’s status as a doctor has given him an unfair advantage in how the media is covering this lawsuit?
ANSWER: Medical peer newsletters or magazines that interviewed the plaintiff did not approach me. Websites maintained by doctors for doctors or lawyers for lawyers often caused an inference that I was a zealot family member or somebody who had asked about my dad’s chances and then shot the messenger. Generally, however, those websites echoed other websites in advising public relations responses other than a lawsuit – for fear of creating the “Streisand Effect.” As a retired layman, I brought far less resources to the battle of financial attrition.
7) Do you have a favorite founding father?
ANSWER: Thomas Paine.
[Maura Larkins comment: Good choice!]
8) Your father selflessly served this country, and now the laws of the land are causing you and your family discord. Has this experience ignited a justice reform fire – with regards to defamation law — in your gut?
ANSWER: I’ve learned that laws about slander and libel do not conform to one’s expectations. I’ve read that online complaints are safe “if you stick to the facts.” That’s exactly the wrong advice. I did not want to merely post my conclusions. I wanted to stick to my recollection of what I’d heard. I don’t like to read generalities like he’s arrogant, rudest waiter I ever met, worst plumber ever, etc. However, such generalities are excused as opinion, hyperbole, or angry utterances. If one purports to say what happened, factual recitations can be litigated. The plaintiff must prove the facts are willfully misstated, but the defendant can go broke while waiting through the effort.
I feel that defamation lawsuits are much too easy for wealthy plaintiffs. If I were to attempt suing a doctor for malpractice, my case would not proceed until I’d obtained an affidavit from another doctor, declaring that the defendant’s actions did not conform to established procedures. In a defamation suit, there’s generally no exit short of a judge’s dismissal order – which can be appealed by the plaintiff. Being called “defendant” is terribly personal, but the civil suit path is totally impersonal. During the three years that I went through depositions, interrogatories, a dismissal hearing, an appellate hearing, and a state Supreme Court hearing; I never once spoke to a judge. At depositions, the plaintiff and I sat opposite each other, while I answered his lawyer’s questions, and he answered my lawyer’s questions. We were not to speak to each other.
Minnesota and two other states allow “hip pocket” lawsuits. The plaintiff can start a suit by sending the summons and complaint to the defendant without filing the documents in court. The plaintiff enjoys complete anonymity from public awareness. The defendant has 20 days to respond, but the court is unaware that the suit exists. The plaintiff can conduct interrogatories and depositions while the court is unaware that the suit exists. The plaintiff can send settlement demands to the defendant’s insurance company while the court is unaware that the suit exists. Until the suit is actually filed, the plaintiff’s lawyer orchestrates everything as the officer of the court. If the defendant files his answer, in order to publicly get onto the docket and under the supervision of a judge, the defendant pays the filing fee. In Minnesota, if the plaintiff loses his effort at rule by law, the rule of law generally allows the defendant no remuneration. The plaintiff can lose the suit while winning the battle of financial attrition.
9) Tell us about yourself.
ANSWER: I’m a retired Chief Petty Officer, Social Insurance Specialist, and Medical Records Analyst, having worked for the Coast Guard, the Social Security Administration, and St Mary’s Medical Center. I majored in Industrial Supervision at the Purdue University Calumet School of Engineering, Manufacturing, and Technology. My wife and I have 6 children and 10 grandchildren.
Between high school and the Coast Guard, I worked in a steel mill. I spent part of those two years as a blacksmith helper. I helped make pry bars, jackhammer chisel points, air hose couplings, rods, and hooks.
I’ve never been afraid of heights, bodies of water, or love – just falling, drowning, and rejection.
I wish I could sleep, but then my short attention span kicks in: “St. Luke’s Hospital, defamation, lawsuit, Minnesota Supreme Court, one sheep, two sheep, three sheep, cow, horse, chicken, duck, duck, goose, old McDonald had a farm; heeeeeeeyy, Macarena!”