July 19, 2012
“Doctor Suing Former Patient Over Online Criticism”
Brian Maass, CBS 4, Denver, Colorado
A Centennial-based anesthesiologist, Dr. Michael Gesquiere, has filed a civil lawsuit against a former patient, Joanna Putman, claiming her online venting amounted to libel that damaged his reputation and his business.
“What we are talking about are not negative opinions or reviews, what we are talking about are demonstrably false statements of fact that harmed a medical practice and a physicians reputation,” said Tripp Lake, Gesquiere’s attorney.
Putman had seen Dr. Gesquiere for relief of chronic pain following numerous surgeries, but the Doctor-patient relationship soured. “I thought he was a really nice guy. I liked him,” Putman said of the initial relationship. But eventually, the two did not see eye to eye.
Putman took to Angie’s List, RateMds.com and other websites to criticize Gesquiere and his treatment.
On Angie’s List, where other patients had given Gesquiere “A” grades, Putman gave him an “F” saying in part that Gesquiere’s office “filled my medical file with lies… and then abandoned me… he is under investigation.”
On another site, Putman wrote, “I stayed here too long and it almost killed me.”
“The one review on RateMds basically says this doctor pushes too many meds, and he’ll start treating you like a second class citizen making you take urine tests,” said Putman.
“I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” maintains Putman. “Everything I said was true.”
Gesquiere declined to speak to CBS4 citing patient confidentiality issues. But his attorney said the physician only filed suit after first trying to get Putman to take down what Gesquiere considered to be false statements. “He was charged with being a pain pill pusher and for an anesthesiologist whose focus is to wean people off meds, you can’t let those kinds of statements stand,” said Lake.
Putman said she has removed some of the offensive posts but has not been able to remove all of them.
She says the Doctor’s lawsuit has wracked her and her husband with anxiety and they anticipate financial difficulties.
Similar lawsuits have been filed across the country by service providers against consumers believed to have posted false statements.
“The internet is no different than any other forum as far as libel law is concerned,” said Steven Zansberg, a Denver based first amendment attorney. Whether it’s in a consumer review site, a tweet, on a blog or on a website, its treated the same under the laws of defamation as something thats published in a newspaper, a flyer or broadcast over your airwaves,” said Zansberg. He said actions like Dr. Gesquiere’s tend to inhibit critical web postings, “Those types of claims do have a chilling effect and do inhibit consumers and patients from posting comments that may be of benefit to the rest of us. “My advice to anyone thinking of posting a negative review, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a bad experience is to pause, and think, and to give some time before hitting send.”