DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE: “Duluth Man Fights Defamation Suit By Doctor He Criticized”

FEBRUARY 10, 2011

“Duluth Man Fights Defamation Suit By Doctor He Criticized”

Mark Stodghill, DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE

A Duluth physician who sued a patient’s son for defamation was in court as the son attempted to have the case thrown out. Dr. David McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, Duluth, Minnesota, filed the lawsuit against Dennis Laurion of Duluth in St. Louis County District Court in 2010. McKee alleges that Laurion defamed him and interfered with his business by criticizing him by making false statements on websites and to various third parties including other physicians in Duluth, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee, St. Luke’s hospital and professional organizations.

Laurion’s father, Kenneth, now 85 and a Navy combat medic in the Solomon Islands during World War II, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and was treated by McKee at St. Luke’s hospital April 19. He recovered from his condition. However, he and his family allege that McKee was rude and insensitive to the patient in his actions and comments.

The defendants claim that when McKee didn’t find Kenneth Laurion in the Intensive Care Unit, he said: “I had to find out whether you had transferred or died.” McKee confirmed in deposition that he made the statement, but claimed it was a jocular comment meant to relieve tension.

Kenneth Laurion, his defendant son, and daughter-in-law were in the courtroom Thursday, as was plaintiff McKee. McKee is asking for more than $50,000 in damages. Laurion claims that any statements he made about the doctor were true and that he is immune from any liability.

Duluth defense attorney John Kelly argued that his client’s statements were substantially true, were statements of opinion and couldn’t be demonstrated to be false. “He is standing up and speaking out for his father. That is his motivation … in the hope that something gets done,” Kelly told the court.

McKee is represented by Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick. Tanick told the court that Laurion used the websites as a “weapon of mass destruction” to injure the reputation of McKee, place the doctor in a negative light and impugn his professional practice.

In a written motion, Tanick wrote, “The totality of statements made on these websites would be injurious to the reputation and standing of a doctor in the eyes of others who might see it, including patients or prospective patients, colleagues, peers, referral sources, and others.”

Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden is presiding over the case. As the parties introduced themselves to the court, Hylden told them it was a “very interesting type of case.”

Thinking out loud, Hylden suggested that Laurion has a constitutionally protected right to an opinion, but “isn’t there some limitation on what a person can say in that public forum?”

Kelly said his client made his statements of opinion in good faith and they were not demonstratively false. “There has to be a protected area in which someone like Dennis Laurion can come forward, stand up and speak for his father and say, ‘Look, in this particular instance, my father didn’t get treated very well and you ought to know that.’ ”

Tanick argued that Laurion’s criticism goes much farther than that. “He chose to tell the world at large in a way that was injurious to Dr. McKee’s reputation,” Tanick said.

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