John Washam: Oregon Dentist Sues Patient For $300,000 For Bad Online Review

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SEPTEMBER 2, 2012

“Oregon Dentist Sues Patient For $300,000 For Bad Online Review”

John Washam, Talk To The Manager

Dr. Mo Saleh, dentist, is suing a patient for $300,000, stating that the review his patient, Spencer Bailey, posted on Yelp is costing his business $100,000 a week.

Bailey now has a lawyer and an expensive court battle ahead of him after his fallout with Dr. Saleh who works at Optima Dental in Lake Oswego.

Bailey suspected he was getting questionable care. “I had never had a cavity before I set foot in his office,” he said. “He told me the day that I saw him that I had 10 or so cavities, which threw me for a loop – I was nervous that I had some other health problem.”

Bailey said three weeks after he posted his review, Dr. Saleh demanded Bailey take down the posting or be sued. Bailey said he removed it immediately. “In hindsight it didn’t matter, because even though I took down the opinion online, I’m still right here,” he said.

This type of lawsuit is not new, and we expect to see more in the future. Such lawsuits expose the legal struggle between free speech and responsible speech, meaning that these reviews can damage business’ reputations.

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Dentist Mo Saleh

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KATU News: Dentist Loses Suit After Former Patient Criticizes Him Online

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2012

“Dentist Loses Suit After Former Patient Criticizes Him Online”

Lincoln Graves, KATU News

A judge decided the critical comments made on review site YELP.com and other sites were free speech.

“I’m disgusted. I’m actually really disgusted,” said dentist Mo Saleh, who tried to sue his former client, Spencer Bailey, for defamation after finding negative reviews on the Internet. “The reason I’m risking opportunity and risking this negative exposure is because I feel that this is wrong.”

But a judge threw out the suit before it got very far.

“When we walked into this courtroom, we didn’t walk on equal footing because of the Anti-SLAPP law,” Saleh said. The “SLAPP” in the Anti-SLAPP law stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Businesses can sometimes file those suits to quiet criticism. But the Anti-SLAPP law can be a friend to those who are taken to court, giving them free speech protection when they make comments in a public forum and concern a public interest, which a site like YELP seeks to serve.

“It’s not easy to be sued and dragged into court,” said Jeremiah Ross, the attorney who represented Bailey. “Just as we anticipated, they couldn’t prove their case because it wasn’t a defamatory statement.”

Still, Saleh may appeal, believing the online criticism was meant to harm him and not simply to inform the public. “I teach my kids to stand up when you’ve been wronged, and I think that’s absolutely disgusting what happened today,” he said.

One of the comments Bailey was accused of making was, “If Saleh finds a cavity, get a second opinion and get it filled by someone else.”

Saleh was seeking $300,000 in damages.

Source, KATU

Source, KOMO News

Source, KVAL

Dentist Mo Saleh

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Years Of Great Dental Marketing Erased When Dentist Sues Patient

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October 12, 2012

“Years Of Great Dental Marketing Erased When Dentist Sues Patient”

Jim Du Molin, Dental Practice Marketing And Management Blog

No matter how many times The Wealthy Dentist points out that suing for a negative online review is just bad dental marketing, another case makes headlines.

Three weeks ago we reported on dentist, Mo Saleh, who was suing a former dental patient for $300,000 for damage to his reputation and loss of revenue stemming from what he felt was an inflammatory negative online review.

And just this week the judge in the case decided to throw the lawsuit out, stating that online comments made by the dental patient were free speech.

To prove that the dental patient was guilty of libel, the dentist would have to establish that the statements made in the online review were false, that they caused the dentist harm, and were posted without proper research into the validity of the comments.

But if the online review is considered a statement of opinion about the dentist, as opposed to actual facts, then the dentist won’t get very far in a lawsuit for defamation, and here in California, as well as in Oregon, the law takes it one step further with Anti-SLAPP legislation.

California’s anti-SLAPP statute provides for a special motion to strike a complaint where the complaint arises from activity exercising the rights of petition and free speech. (The California Anti-SLAPP Project). The same is true on Oregon, where the dentist’s lawsuit was initiated.

According to KVAL news, Dr. Saleh may appeal the judges verdict, if he feels that the online review was meant to harm him and not simply to inform the public.

The Wealthy Dentist argues that Dr. Saleh’s money would be better spent initiating a new dental marketing campaign targeted at showcasing what his dental practice has to offer and bringing in new dental patients.

Most of the general public is beginning to look at negative online reviews with some skepticism because of many of the outlandish comments reviewers have made. Someone looking for a local dentist may see the negative review, but will also read the positive reviews, and probably ask a few people they know in the community for a recommendation. They most likely won’t make their decision based on one reviewer’s comments, and if a dental patient did decide on a dentist based on just one review, then a dentist might not want them as a dental patient.

But a dentist can do more damage to their reputation themselves and erase years of great dental marketing by engaging in litigation with a dental patient who has written a poor review of their dental practice.

Instead, spend that money on making your dental practice the best practice in town.

Jim Du Molin is a leading Internet marketing expert for dentists in North America. He has helped hundreds of doctors make more money in their practices using his proven Internet marketing techniques.

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Dentist Mo Saleh

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Julie Anne: Dr. Mo Saleh Sues Former Patient for Negative Review

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September 1, 2012

“Dr. Mo Saleh Sues Former Patient for Negative Review

Julie Anne, BGBC Survivors

Spencer Bailey did not care for the dental service provided Dr. Mo Saleh and left a negative review of his experience on Yelp.com.  Dr. Saleh didn’t care for Bailey’s negative review and sued him for $300,000.

What if I had a bad experience? Can I say something negative?

We like to hear about the good, the bad, and everything in between. Be sure to include all the relevant facts and details, and don’t embellish your story for effect. We are big believers in freedom of speech, but beware the legal consequences if you post false information.

Yelp.com says it is okay for Spencer Bailey to leave a negative review as long as the information is true.

Did this dentist not pay attention to the news in his local area?  It made quite a stir in Portland both around the middle of May, when the media found the story, and then again mid-July with the final hearing.  It was on most every local news station and newspaper as well as national level, and overseas.  Maybe this dentist did see the news and just thinks he is special.  That could be the case.  Do people who file defamation lawsuits have similar character profiles?  That’s an interesting thought.

Dear Dr. Saleh:  Let me help you out.  You will most likely not win this case.  Yelp is a site for “opinions”.  Opinions are protected speech.   Let me save you a lot of money.  You might consider the following:

  • Pull out now.  Withdraw the lawsuit immediately.  Don’t waste any more attorney fees.  You must do this immediately as now that the media has the story, your reputation could be far worse.  Go look at my former pastor’s reviews to see what happened when people heard about a pastor suing former church members.
  • Look up Streisand Effect to see what happens in cases like mine (and yours).  The Streisand Effect would not be good for your reputation.  You will be doing far worse to yourself than Bailey ever did by his one negative review, which would have been buried by positives (if you really are a good dentist as you claim).
  • Issue a press release (maximum of 2 paragraphs – do not follow the example of the press release I have shown on my blog – that is far too long and will subject you to more public criticism).  In the press release, consider expressing your heartfelt sorrow for having caused grief to Mr. Bailey.  You might need to make things right with him because he could sue you!

Personal note to Spencer Bailey:   Congratulations, Spencer – – I now see that you’ve got the best representation in Oregon!

Follow-Up to this story 9/3/12

I just read the Willamette Week news article on this case a few minutes ago and was so pleased to read that Spencer Bailey is in very good hands.  He is being represented by my attorney, Linda Williams, and Jeremiah Ross.  Woohoo!!  And of course they have filed the motion to strike using the anti-SLAPP statute.  The first hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.  You can be sure I will be watching this case.

This article also shares what Spencer said in his reviews.

The reviews cited in the complaint include statements saying Bailey implied ”improper and insufficient dental services by Dr. Saleh.” The complaint further alleges that Bailey wrote, “if Dr. Saleh tells you that you have a cavity — GET A SECOND OPINION.”

According to the complaint. Bailey said he had never had a cavity in 32 years until Saleh found several. Bailey’s lawyers have responded by stating that Bailey went to Saleh for dental work and then went to another dentist after experiencing pain. They claim that the other dentist advised Bailey that some of the fillings were unnecessary and some were poorly put in.

Bailey’s attorneys, Jeremiah Ross and Linda Williams, also claimed that Saleh contacted Bailey after he reviewed the dentist on various web sites, threatening him to remove them. They say Bailey removed the postings out of concern for his and his family’s safety. Even though Bailey removed the postings, Saleh is proceeding with his suit. (Saleh’s lawyer declined to comment.)

COMMENTS:

Anonymous: If he has 10 cavities, then no problem. If he doesn’t then there is a problem. If he violated Yelp’s policy and wrote an outright lie as fact, then he has a problem. He was specific in his allegation. People need to understand that their words have consequences and if those consequences are damaging, then they should be prepared to pay a price equal to the amount of damage that they cause. It is right for the party in the wrong in an auto accident to pay damages then the party committing libel should have to pay up as well. I doubt that this guy caused $300,000 in damages and he took his statement down quickly. However, some lawyer is going to figure it out one day and some mean and hate filled people are going to change their attitudes. The problem is that most stupid people who have time to waste writing knee jerk nonsensical reviews do not have any money and the lawyers will pass. He will likely win, but not because it is okay to write lies and hide behind freedom of speech. Speaking of free speech, is it okay to give out legal advice? What if the legal advice turns out to cost someone? Is the person that gives out legal advice responsible for their words or is that protected under freedom of speech as well?

Julie Anne: I’ve got my spray can ready, Anonymous. BTW: Where do you get this: “He was specific in his allegation.” Where is his allegation referenced? I haven’t seen the original review anywhere or a copy of it anywhere.

Anonymous: Hmmm. I thought that I gave a pretty honest assessment. Not sure how what I wrote offends you. According to the the quote in the news article that I read, he was specific about the number of cavities that the dentist said he found. That seems pretty specific. I just don’t think that it is right for people to take shots at someone because they are in business and for no other good reason. That certainly was not the founders intent when the Bill of Rights was written. I do not think that the Anti-Slapp law was written to stop something like this from being heard in court either. Both legal concepts are exploited by people with too much time on their hands. Just my opinion, but there are many that agree with me. This dentist is probably ill advised to bring such a suit and is very likely to lose. He certainly has the right to defend himself.

Julie Anne: So you are implying that this guy is taking shots at someone just because they are in business? Ok. That explains everything. We’ll see how this plays out and I think you are missing the purpose of the anti-SLAPP. Let’s say that Bailey was wrong at posting his review (I don’t have enough information to say that at all). He was asked to remove his negative comment – actually, he was threatened by legal action to remove it. So Bailey removed it and was still sued. Who is showing bully behavior here?

An Attorney: It is my opinion that the dentist will suffer the “Streisand effect” and that might result in him having to relocate to have a successful practice. Anonymous, if it is clearly an opinion, then the statement is protected speech under the First Amendment and under the Oregon Anti-SLAPP law. And Yelp states that the statements therein are opinion and not matters of fact. BTW, if the dentist was wrong about the cavities, he could also be liable for malpractice, as well as having to pay the defendant’s legal bills, which can run to $50,000 very quickly. There are too many people who get in a hurry to sue without counting the costs and the risks before doing so. I suspect that the dentist will suffer more loss of business from the suit than from the comment. It is called shooting oneself in the foot with the aid of an attorney!

Julie Anne: An Attorney – your comment got stuck in my spam box . So sorry! Most reasonable people who read review sites realize that there will always be a few negative comments and will disregard them if the large majority of comments are positive. This dentist, in addition to my former pastor, brought far more negative attention to themselves by suing. It’s telling the world how they deal with conflict.

Anonymous: Attorney is right and the dentist did more damage to himself than the poster. It is a little different in JA’s case and I really don’t know why Oneal did not go after the “false report” a bit stronger. I believe that I would have gotten all of that out and then launched a targeted lawsuit against whomever was responsible. If anything, that set of events related to his family getting investigated was well over the line. Stalking is never acceptable, either.

Watcher of Anonymous: There goes Anonymous again. Perhaps Anonymous should ask the source about why they didn’t use Anonymous’ wisdom and do things Anonymous’ way. And do some of Anonymous’ suggestions about this and that constitute “free legal advice”? Anonymous proves again that Anonymous is logically inconsistent.

Anonymous: Does not look like much of a thread going here. But, you read your history and case law concerning Anti-Slapp and then get back to me. I think that you will find that it is for two things: To protect Freedom of Speech, and to assure that regular people have a voice at public hearings concerning property rights and zoning. Anything other than that is just plain abuse and giving one party more rights over another. I should lose money and my right to recover so that someone can entertain themselves? It is not intended to allow someone to hide behind the First Amendment and inflict damages on another party for whatever reason. Before you say it ain’t so, you study up real good. Start with the Federalist papers and work up.

Watcher of Anonymous: Anonymous must seem to find “stirring the pot” comments and demands for others to “get back to me” to be entertaining. Ironic. Perhaps Anonymous is addicted to ensuring there’s “much of a thread going”? Julie Anne doesn’t owe Anonymous or Anonymous’ demand anything. Maybe Anonymous needs to have Anonymous’ own blog to lay out Anonymous’ own theory of the import of the Federalist papers and etc.

An Attorney: First Amendment jurisprudence allows opinion that is negative about someone and protects it as free speech from being defamation. The Anti-SLAPP law just allows those who win after being sued for expressing opinion to recover their legal fees. The law does not pay the defendant, just their legal fees and legal costs.

Kathi: Wow! This is the first I’ve heard of this. If I were a patient at that orthodontist’s office, I would most likely leave his practice and find another orthodontist. I don’t think I’d like the chance of being sued if I felt that he was not providing a good service. The only other case I’ve seen recently was about an orthodontist being sued by a man who says that the doctor intentionally left his braces on for 11 years! I think there’s more to that story.

Julie Anne: I’m curious, Kathi, do you use review sites like Google, Yelp, DexKnows? I’ve been using review sites for years – primarily when looking for hotels, restaurants, etc. Some might find this surprising, but I rarely leave a negative review. If I receive service that goes over and above the normal expected service, I like to give a shout-out by leaving a positive review. I have definitely gone to places where I could have left negative reviews, but instead, prefer to handle those in person and usually they get the situation resolved that way. I have left positive reviews after having a negative experience and then explain how management made things right. That is important, too. On this sentence: “ I don’t think I’d like the chance of being sued if I felt that he was not providing a good service.” are you saying that you wouldn’t like the risk of being sued if you left a negative review?

Kathi: I use Yelp mostly for looking at reviews of places. I have left a couple, but nothing negative. However, I have a friend who uses Yelp quite a bit. She left a negative review on a restaurant and received a good response back from the owner. You just never know how a person is going to respond to a negative review. I would hope that the business would take it seriously and learn from the person making the comment. I think that most who take it poorly, such as those who decide to sue, are under the impression that they are the best at what they do. So, who is the customer to question. If I were a patient at this particular doctor and I found out he was suing another patient I would get out because to me, that doctor has set a standard. I would not be comfortable going to see him knowing that if I didn’t like his service, and decided to say something to someone about it, I could be sued for my opinion. I guess that this comes from watching relatives who are sue happy and will say that they’ll sue someone if they are wronged in any way. By the way – that’s a great update on the post!

Julie Anne: I wonder how many share your thoughts, Kathi, that if they leave a negative review they might be sued? That kind of defeats the purpose of reviews if you can’t leave an honest review, even if it is negative. I don’t think I’ve ever left a negative review without going up the channels to get the situation resolved. Public reviews are obviously public and it’s important to give the benefit of the doubt first or to allow them an opportunity to make a situation better, if possible.

Headless Unicorn Guy: According to the complaint. Bailey said he had never had a cavity in 32 years until Saleh found several. Bailey’s lawyers have responded by stating that Bailey went to Saleh for dental work and then went to another dentist after experiencing pain. They claim that the other dentist advised Bailey that some of the fillings were unnecessary and some were poorly put in. Isn’t that called “Malpractice”? Or (for the suddenly-appearing cavities and unnecessary fillings) “Fraud”?

Spencer Bailey: I am Spencer Bailey, the defendant in the case against Dr. Saleh and Dental Dynamics. I stumbled across this page when I was researching your case (earily similar!). I wanted to personally thank you for calling attention to my case and to the issue of internet defamation in general. As you and I both know, being sued is scary and embarassing and I am so glad that you prevailed as well (We won our anti-SLAPP motion this morning!. Jeremiah Ross and Linda Williams were expert attorneys and am so grateful for their hard work in this case. I wish you the best of luck and greatly appreciate your work in advancing this cause.

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Dentist Mo Saleh News

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Willamette Week: Portland Dentist Sues Patient Over Internet Posts

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September 3, 2012

“Portland Dentist Sues Patient Over Internet Posts”

Sam Stites, Willamette Week

A Portland dentist is suing a former patient for what the dentist claims are defamatory reviews in online forums.

Dr. Mo Saleh, of Dental Dynamics, originally filed suit against Spencer Bailey in Multnomah Circuit Court on June 26 seeking $300,000 after Bailey wrote about Saleh’s dental skills on Yelp, DoctorOogle.com and Google. In his lawsuit, Saleh says Bailey posts caused damage to his reputation, loss of profits and emotional distress.

The reviews cited in the complaint include statements saying Bailey implied ”improper and insufficient dental services by Dr. Saleh.” The complaint further alleges that Bailey wrote, “if Dr. Saleh tells you that you have a cavity — GET A SECOND OPINION.”

According to the complaint. Bailey said he had never had a cavity in 32 years until Saleh found several. Bailey’s lawyers have responded by stating that Bailey went to Saleh for dental work and then went to another dentist after experiencing pain. They claim that the other dentist advised Bailey that some of the fillings were unnecessary and some were poorly put in.

Bailey’s attorneys, Jeremiah Ross and Linda Williams, also claimed that Saleh contacted Bailey after he reviewed the dentist on various web sites, threatening him to remove them. They say Bailey removed the postings out of concern for his and his family’s safety. Even though Bailey removed the postings, Saleh is proceeding with his suit. (Saleh’s lawyer declined to comment.)

As online commentary about all manner of topics has exploded, so too has the number of lawsuits unhappy targets have filed about such commentary. Saleh’s suit falls under what lawyers call a practice of Strategic Law Against Public Participation or SLAPP. SLAPP cases take aim at people making statements or publishing information that could be damaging to the plaintiff. Critics say these suits are sometimes little more than attempt to censor, silence and in intimidate the defendant.

Bailey’s attornies filed a motion to strike Saleh’s lawsuit under the anti-SLAPP statute, declaring that Bailey’s online reviews are free speech in a public forum. “Spencer’s review was a protected opinion and the Plaintiff cannot prove their allegations,” Ross, Bailey’s co-counsel tells Willamette Weekly via email. “Nor can they prove $300,000 in damages for a post that was up for three weeks.”

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KATU NEWS: Dentist Sues Patient For $300,000 For Bad Online Review

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August 31, 2012

“Dentist Sues Patient For $300,000 For Bad Online Review”

Dan Tilkin, KATU News and KATU Staff

LAKE OSWEGO, Oregon – A Lake Oswego dentist is suing his former patient because the patient posted negative reviews about him on the Internet.

Dr. Mo Saleh wants $300,000, saying his patient, Spencer Bailey, harmed his reputation. But Bailey said he shouldn’t pay the price for telling the truth.

Bailey now has a lawyer and an expensive court battle ahead of him after his fallout with Dr. Saleh who works at Optima Dental in Lake Oswego.

Bailey suspected he was getting questionable care. “I had never had a cavity before I set food in his office,” he said. “He told me the day that I saw him that I had 10 or so cavities, which threw me for a loop – I was nervous that I had some other health problem.”

Bailey posted a negative review on the website Yelp. He said three weeks later Saleh demanded Bailey take down the posting or be sued. Bailey said he removed it immediately.

“In hindsight it didn’t matter because, even though I took down the opinion online, I’m still right here,” he said.

Doctor Saleh declined to speak to KATU News.

Dr. Saleh is seeking $300,000 from Bailey for lost profits, emotional distress and damage to his reputation.

“The insinuation that this negative opinion, one of many, cost him $100,000 a week in lost business, I think it is a stretch,” Bailey said.

Bailey’s lawyer said that Yelp and other websites are protected from being sued and can’t be held liable for one person’s opinion.

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Lawsuits By Doctor and Dentist Over Patients’ Reviews Dismissed

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SEPTEMBER 29, 2012

“Lawsuits By Doctor and Dentist Over Patients’ Reviews Dismissed”

Eric P. Robinson, Blog Law Online

A doctor in New York and a dentist in Oregon have both found out that it may not be easy to sue for libel over online reviews of their services, after their separate lawsuits were both dismissed. And it turns out that most of the dentists and doctors who have sued over online reviews have reached similar results.

In the New York case, doctor Trilby J. Tener sued over a comment posted to the physician review website Vitals. The comment, posted April 12, 2009, stated that “Dr. Tener is a terrible doctor. She is mentally unstable and has poor skills. Stay far away!!!”

Dr. Tener discovered the comment when she did a Google search for herself on May 28, 2009. But she did not file suit until April 8, 2010, four days before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations (running from the day when the statement was initially posted). She then attempted to amend the complaint on June 8, 2010 to change the named defendant, claiming that it took that long to determine who was responsible for the posting.

Discovery in that case lead to an appellate decision, after Dr. Tener’s efforts to obtain electronically-stored records from a hospital, in an attempt to identify the poster. The records were deleted through normal business operation. Calling it “our first opportunity” to address the issue, the appellate court noted that “[electronically stored information] is difficult to destroy permanently. Deletion usually only makes the data more difficult to access,” and held that  against non-parties must utilize a cost-benefit analysis weighing the cost of retrieving the information against the value of the sought-for information. See Tener v. Cremer, 89 A.D.3d 75, 931 N.Y.S.2d 552 (N.Y. App. Div., 1st Dept. 2011).

That ruling raised the ire of the trial court because the “trial record” before the appellate court differed from that record that had been before the trial court when it made its initial decision in the discovery dispute. The problem turned out to be a clerical error in the trial court when the case was passed from one judge to another, that Dr. Tener’s attorney did not correct.

Ruling on a defense motion to dismiss after the appellate decision, the trial court chided the plaintiff and her attorney for appealing rather than attempting to correct the record, and for not being diligent about identifying the proper defendant prior to filing suit. The court then proceeded to dismiss the suit on statute of limitations grounds, and also wrote that “even if this action was found to be timely, dismissal is warranted for failure to state a cause of action, as the alleged defamatory statements are statements of opinion, and, thus, are not actionable.”  Tener v. Cremer, 2012 NY Slip Op 32022(U) (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. County July 16, 2012).

Meanwhile, an Oregon court dismissed a lawsuit by a Lake Oswego, Oregon dentist over reviews that a former patient posted on Yelp.com, DoctorOogle.com and Google. Circuit Court Judge Judith Matarazzo dismissed the lawsuit under the state’s anti-SLAPP law on Sept. 5.

Such statutes, adopted in 28 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory (and by common law in two more states), allow for easy dismissal of libel and similar lawsuits that are primarily aimed at limiting discussion of public issues. (See the DMLP Legal Guide for more on anti-SLAPP laws.)

These cases stand as data points showing growing trend. According to this list of lawsuits (pdf) brought by doctors and dentists over online reviews of their services compiled by Eric Goldman of Santa Clara School of Law, physicians have not been very successful in such suits. Several suits have been dismissed under anti-SLAPP statutes. See Gilbert v. Sykes, 53 Cal. Rptr. 3d 752 (Cal. App. Ct. 2007); Kim v. IAC/InterActive Corp., 2008 WL 3906427 (Cal. App. Ct. 2008); Wong v. Jing, 189 Cal. App. 4th 1354 (Cal. App. Ct. 2010); Rahbar v. Batoon, No. CGC-09-492145 (Cal. Super., San Francisco filed Sept. 2, 2009), No. CGC-10-502884 (Cal. Super., San Francisco filed August 20, 2010), and No. CGC-11-515742 (Cal. Super., San Francisco filed Sept. 8, 2011). (In one case, the court declined to dismiss a doctor’s lawsuit under Maine’s anti-SLAPP law, finding that the plaintiff was likely to be able to prove that the patient fabricated the story posted on the review site. See Lynch v. Christie, 2011 WL 3920154 (D. Me. Sept. 7, 2011), appeal dismissed, No. 11-2172 (1st Cir. 2011).)

Others have been dismissed under section 230 of the Commmunications Decency Act. Other cases were withdrawn, and some settled.

None of the cases actually ended with court awards to the doctors.

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