Cengage Advantage Books:
Fundamentals of Business Law Today: Summarized Cases
By Roger Leroy Miller
Case 4.1 McKee V. Laurion, Supreme Court of Minnesota, 825 N. W. 2nd 725, 2013
FACTS: Kenneth Laurion was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota, after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. Two days later, he was transferred from the intensive care unit (ICU) of St. Luke’s to a private room. The attending physician arranged for Dr. David McKee, a neurologist, to examine him. Kenneth’s son, Dennis, and other Laurion family members were present during the examination. After Kenneth was discharged from the hospital, Dennis posted the following statements on websites for rating physicians.
[ Dr. McKee ] seemed upset that my father had been moved [ into a private room. ] Never having met my father or his family, Doctor McKee said, “When you weren’t in ICU, I had to spend time finding out if you transferred or died.” When we gaped at him, he said, “Well, 44% of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option.” . . . When my father said his gown was just hanging from his neck without a back, Dr. McKee said, “That doesn’t matter.” My wife said, “It matters to us; let us go into the hall.”
After learning of the online posts, Dr. McKee filed a suit in a Minnesota state court against Dennis, asserting defamation. The court issued a summary judgment in Dennis’ favor. A state intermediate appellate court reversed this judgment.
ISSUE: Were the statements that Dennis posted online about Dr. McKee defamatory?
DECISION: No. The Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that the lower court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Dennis and reversed the decision of the state intermediate appellate court.
REASON: The state’s highest court pointed out that truth is a complete defense to a defamation action and that true statements, however disparaging, are not actionable. “If the statement is true in substance, minor inaccuracies of expression or detail are immaterial. Minor inaccuracies do not amount to falsities so long as the substance, the gist, the sting of the libelous charge is justified.” Dr. McKee acknowledged in his deposition that when he examined Dennis’ father, Kenneth, he did communicate to those present that some intensive-care-unit patients die, although he denied referencing a specific percentage.
The court believed that even without an exact percentage in his statement, Dr. McKee’s statement satisfied the test “for substantial truth because it would have the same effect on the reader regardless of whether a specific percentage is referenced [ or whether the percentage is accurate ].” Thus Dennis’ online statements were not actionable as defamation because there was no genuine question as to the falsity of the statements – they were substantially true.