Plastic Surgeon Sues Patient for Posting Negative Review

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May 29, 2012

“Plastic Surgeon Sues Patient for Posting Negative Review”

 John Washam, Talk To The Manager Blog

Restaurants and hotels aren’t the only categories of service business that are vulnerable to online reviews.  Healthcare providers also are wary of reviews appearing on medical review sites such as Vitals, Rate MDs, and Rate Your Doctor.

Dr. Armando Soto is claiming defamation against a patient who posted a negative review on Rate MDs.

Domingo Rivera, attorney for Dr. Soto, said the patient’s comments on Rate MDs aren’t opinions protected by the First Amendment but a “malicious campaign of unlawfully defaming and spreading lies” about his client and business.

The counsel for the unnamed patient warned the suit could have a chilling effect on users of sites such as Angie’s List, Yelp, Rate Your Doctor, and others that rate professionals and services.  “The terror created by this lawsuit will squelch freedom of speech,” said David Muraskin, a Public Citizen attorney representing the defendant.

In 2011, the anonymous online comments about breast-augmentation surgeries claimed that the doctor had botched the work, saying there was unevenness, extra scarring and other issues. The doctor’s lawyers claim those statements are defamatory because they aren’t true, while other comments about the “end result is horrible” is an opinion.

David Muraskin of the Public Citizen Litigation Group said, “If a patient is unhappy, they can use constructive criticism, or return to the surgeon to fix it.”

Rivera said. “This person has a vendetta, and my client has to use the court system to remedy that.”

The Henrico County Circuit Court granted Soto a subpoena in April to force Comcast to divulge the Internet IP address, identity, mailing and billing addresses of the person who posted the comment.

Rivera said he most likely will drop that subpoena because he has independently learned that patient is an Osceola County schoolteacher. He suspects she has posted multiple comments on the website, posing as another unhappy patient. He did not identify the patient and has not transferred the lawsuit to Florida yet.

“It is almost a certainty that we will file there,” he said. “This person will be dealt with.”

Rivera said Soto wants the posts removed and is seeking $49,000 in damages.

Comments:

 Dr. Armando Soto: Free Speech is Great; Defamation is Illegal; but Patient Satisfaction is King.

Here are the facts of this situation.

Some time ago, we became aware of a collection of internet posts that bore no resemblance to truthful patient experiences in our practice. There have also been, over the years, a small number of other negative opinions expressed, with which we were not as concerned, understanding that we can never make everybody happy, and that the people involved were not going to be possible for us to please, no matter how hard we tried.

However, because this particular collection of posts included multiple untruthful representations of fact, because they include duplication of complaints with subtle differences and different usernames to make it look as though written by multiple people (when in reality a single person was responsible), and because some included no truth at all (again, in statements represented as fact), we felt it important to pursue the matter.

Why?  Well, first of all, because as a professional who takes his relationships with his patients and their complete satisfaction as seriously as I do, it was important to me that I do everything possible to understand (for the benefit of this individual as well as my practice) why this person had not expressed any legitimate complaints to me directly and allowed us to guide her through a thoughtful and appropriate course of action prior to posting untruthful and damaging things about me on the web. The vast majority of my patients would attest, I believe, to the extreme dedication to patient satisfaction we practice in my office every day- and I believe it is evident to them that we often do so even when not in our financial best interests. In other words, we believe in doing the right thing- and did not understand why someone would do this.

Secondly, there is no one alive today that is more thankful for the opportunities, freedoms, and rights that we as Americans enjoy than me. I am a living example of The American Dream. I simply would not have been able to achieve everything I have in any other nation on Earth, and I am deeply grateful for that. For the legal eagles at Public Citizen to say that I am trying to “squelch free speech” is ignorant, offensive, and more importantly, untrue.

I believe all of our constitutional rights- including the right to free speech are valuable and ought to be protected- but as an American who HAS worked so hard to accomplish everything I have, I also believe (just as strongly) that we have a right to protect our good names from libel and slander. These rights are no less important.

I believe the zealous, if misguided people at Public Citizen have an ax to grind on this issue of internet free speech, and would like to use me as their stone… but this is simply not my issue. I have no problem with free expression of opinion. Just libel and slander. Thank God that in America, we recognize a difference.

The reason all of the people who complained on the web about me were named in the suit is because it was necessary to do so in order to identify this one person. It is also required that damages requested be stipulated- but our goal was never to attempt to recover money. Our goal was to identify the person involved, come to an understanding of the causes of her behavior, and bring light to the truth, while hopefully recovering a more healthy doctor-patient relationship and achieving her satisfaction.

Experience has shown that the most vocal and happy clients/patients of any business are those who may have been initially displeased and were then won over by the establishment’s skills at recovering their satisfaction and trust. It has been our goal to have this opportunity with this person, and I am pleased to say we are on our way to achieving this end.

I have no problem with the occasional patient expressing a negative opinion of me. The fact is that even a cursory review of my education, training, experience, work product, and the vast majority of prior patient experiences would reveal a level of success and accomplishment with which I believe I can be rightfully proud, and which belies the idea being pushed by the brilliant minds at Public Citizen- that I am a poorly qualified surgeon who is trying to keep the word of my incompetence from getting out somehow by suing all critics into submission.

The truth is that the lawsuit we filed had a very limited purpose- to identify the person responsible for this one particular collection of fraudulent and defamatory (because they included multiple representations of fact that could be objectively proven to be false) posts. The suit served that purpose. The patient in question, in fact, has at this point admitted to everything I describe above, and we are actively discussing a solution acceptable to all, with restoration of a healthier relationship. Which is really what good health care is all about.

To summarize, I have no problem with the reality that there are always going to be some who have a negative opinion of me as a professional, despite my best efforts. But I believe I have a right to protect my reputation when behavior crosses the line towards libel and slander. In this particular case, thankfully, the patient has admitted her wrongdoing, agreed to resolve the issues with me, and even asked that I take her back as a patient- such is her true assessment of me.

This is- for the patient, and for me, a very successful outcome.

John Washam:  I see that this has been a difficult experience for you and I’m glad that you’ve reached a resolution. So many businesses are vulnerable to online reviews and in most cases the reviewer is not held accountable. Free speech does not imply “freedom from responsibility”.  Speech can impact good people who are doing their best to run a business and provide valuable services to the community.

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Florida Doctor Sues Patient For Posting Bad Review Online

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May 24, 2012

“Florida Doctor Sues Patient For Posting Bad Review Online”

Fox News, Orlando

 ORLANDO, Fla. –  A Florida plastic surgeon has filed a lawsuit against one of his patients for posting an unfavorable review of him online.

Dr. Armando Soto told My Fox Orlando he filed the suit to protect his reputation and his business. The unnamed patient allegedly trashed his services online at the website Rate MDs, posting complaints about a breast surgery.

Attorney Larry Walters tells My Fox Orlando although the patient may be covered by free speech laws, this protection will only apply if the criticism is valid. “You cannot cross the line and make false statement of fact about a person that causes damages to that person,” he said.

Dr. Soto tells My Fox Orlando he has been in contact with the patient he filed the suit against, and they are trying to work it out. He said he believes his suit against the patient could soon be dropped.

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WESH: Online Comment Prompts Lawsuit From Plastic Surgeon

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May 23, 2012

“Online Comment Prompts Lawsuit From Plastic Surgeon”

WESH, Orlando, Florida

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ORLANDO, Fla. —Posting comments and complaints about a business is something more people are doing in the digital age, but an Orlando plastic surgeon has filed a lawsuit against a patient who let her opinions be known online.

Dr. Armando Soto filed a lawsuit against a woman who let her feelings be known online.

According to the woman’s attorney, she made the comments on RateMDs.com. She saw Soto to improve her stomach, but her assessment was, “Wasted money, bad experience, my love handles look bigger.”

Soto responded with a lawsuit seeking $49,000 in damages. Soto also filed the lawsuit against nine other patients.

The woman’s attorney, who is with Public Citizen, a consumer watch group out of Washington, said the lawsuit is part of a scary trend. “Dr. Soto is attempting to essentially scare off people from using their First Amendment rights,” Attorney Dave Muraskin said.

But Orlando attorney Howard Marks said many professionals aren’t going to take it anymore. Although Marks doesn’t represent Soto, he said he has similar lawsuits in the hopper. He said when the comments are false and malicious, they will act. “You really have no option. You either just sit there and take it and let your reputation be destroyed, or you try and fight back,” Marks said. Marks said to think twice before making a post.

Soto said he would not go on camera, but on his blog he posted, “We prefer our patients communicate this to us directly. It affords us the opportunity to make it right.”

A representative said Soto’s office is in contact with the woman and hopes to redo her surgery and drop the lawsuit. The woman’s attorney said he had no knowledge of that.

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Duluth Doctor’s Claim For Defamation Based On An Online Review Reaches The Minnesota Supreme Court

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Duluth Doctor’s Claim For Defamation Based On An Online Review Reaches The Minnesota Supreme Court

Cassie Batchelder, Silha Research Assistant

Silha Center For The Study Of Media Ethics And Law

University Of Minnesota School Of Journalism And Mass Communication

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Displeased by the treatment his father received in the hospital, Dennis Laurion took his complaint online. Laurion wrote a review of Dr. David McKee, a neurologist who treated his father at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. following a stroke, on a rate-your-doctor website.

Laurion wrote in the online review that his family was displeased with McKee’s “bedside manner.” The review read, “When I mentioned Dr. McKee’s name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, ‘Dr. McKee is a real tool!’” according to a March 24, 2012 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Laurion’s complaint focused on Dr. McKee’s “body language and comments” when he treated Laurion’s father on April 20, 2010.

McKee reportedly read the comments online after another patient alerted him to their existence. McKee responded by filing a lawsuit for defamation and sought more than $50,000 in damages in district court in Duluth. He claimed he has spent $7,000 attempting to eliminate the comments from the Internet. “It’s like removing graffiti from a wall,” McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, a partner with Mansfield, Tanick & Cohen, P.A. told the Star Tribune. He argues Laurion has continued to distort the facts of the situation, both online and in complaints he has filed with various medical groups since the original online complaint. “He put words in the doctor’s mouth,” and made McKee “sound uncaring, unsympathetic or just stupid.”

In St. Louis County District Court in Duluth, District Judge Eric Hylden agreed with Laurion, writing, “The statements in this case appear to be nothing more or less than one man’s description of shock at the way he and in particular his father were treated by a physician.” Hylden dismissed McKee’s lawsuit in April 2011. The Minnesota Court of Appeals, however, disagreed. The court reversed and remanded the dismissal in January 2012, finding that some of Laurion’s comments could subject him to liability for defamation.

Laurion appealed the decision to reverse and remand the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which heard arguments on September 4, 2012. The issue in McKee’s appeal is whether statements Laurion published describing McKee’s treatment of his father are not pure opinion but, rather, factual assertions capable of being proven true or false. This is the standard the United States Supreme Court set forth in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990), for what establishes opinion protected by the First Amendment.

“I argued that the posting to a website is part of the context that colors or shapes what Mr. Laurion was trying to do, and the essential nature of one of these websites is to provide subjective feedback and people get lots of subjective feedback from different perspectives and from different experiences,” John Kelly, an attorney with Hanft Fride, P.A., who represented Laurion before the Minnesota Supreme Court, told the Duluth News Tribune for a September 5, 2012 story.

“We argued to the court that Mr. Laurion published both on the Internet and to approximately 20 others, including medical organizations, false statements about Dr. McKee that disparaged his professional abilities and hurt his reputation,” Tanick, who also represented McKee before the Minnesota Supreme Court, told the Duluth News Tribune. “We asked the court to affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals so that Dr. McKee has the opportunity to present this to a jury and get his day in court.”

Lawsuits like McKee’s are rare, Eric Goldman, professor at Santa Clara University School of Law told the Star Tribune. However, Goldman said “they’ve been popping up around the country as patient review sites such as Vitals and Rate Your Doctor have flourished.” Lawsuits claiming defamation are “kind of the nuclear option,” Goldman said. “It’s the thing that you go to when everything else has failed.” Goldman tracks lawsuits healthcare providers file against online reviewers, and told the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) for the Fall 2012 issue of The News Media and The Law that, of the 28 lawsuits he has tracked, courts dismissed 16 of them, six settled, and the other six are still pending.

In one such suit, an Arizona cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Albert Carlotti III, won a $12 million verdict against a former patient in February 2012, according to a Feb. 20, 2012 post by the American Medical Association on its website. The patient wrote reviews on numerous websites and created her own website stating Carlotti disfigured her face, was not board-certified, and was being investigated by the state medical board, although no records of such investigations exist; the patient is appealing the judgment.

Online reviews of other businesses and services have resulted in lawsuits alleging defamation around the country, as well. For example, an owner of a Sarasota, Fla. computer graphics company sued a reviewer after the reviewer wrote a negative, one-star review on Yelp.com, a website that allows anyone to post reviews of a wide range of businesses. The review called the owner “a scam liar and complete weirdo,” according to a Dec. 18, 2011 report in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. A dentist in Foster City, California, filed a similar suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court in 2008 after a patient’s parents posted a negative review on Yelp.com, according to a Jan. 13, 2009 story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Because online reviewers are subject to defamation lawsuits, Rob Heverly, assistant professor of law at Albany Law School of Union University, wrote a guide for online reviewers on Madisonian.net, a blog focused on law, technology, and culture, which features written contributions from many law professors, on April 13, 2010. “The lesson here is straight forward: if you are making statements online about another person, a business or a service, do not embellish beyond what you can show factually,” Heverly wrote. “Statements of opinion were, in the past, considered absolutely protected, but the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified that opinion-statements backed by implied facts will be actionable where the facts implied are false.” The Minnesota Supreme Court is expected to release its decision in early summer.

SOURCE

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Web Posting

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply To Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Cease And Desist Letter To Defendant Dennis Laurion

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Complaint To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint To Sixth Judicial District Duluth Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Response To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Answer To Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Motion For Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Deposition Extracts

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances Before Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances After Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony In Response To Questions By Marshall Tanick

Affidavits By Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Parents

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Supplemental Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Motion To Oppose Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Memo In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment

Sixth Judicial District Court’s Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Appeal Of Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Order To Strike Portion Of Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Announces Decision

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Petition For Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Opposition To Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Minnesota Supreme Court Decision On David McKee MD V. Dennis K. Laurion

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2010

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2011

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2012

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2013

McKee V Laurion Is A Textbook Case

 

 

 

 

 

WFTV, Orlando, Florida: Plastic Surgeon Sues Patients For Anonymous Online Complaints

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May 23, 2012

“Plastic Surgeon Sues Patients For Anonymous Online Complaints”

WFTV, Orlando, Florida

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 An Orlando, Florida, plastic surgeon is suing 10 patients who he claims anonymously posted comments online about their bad experiences inside his office. Dr. Armando Soto claims the complaints are lies and have damaged his good name. He said he is seeking $49,000 in damages.

One woman wrote that her “9-inch scars are horrific, frightening and unnecessary” after a breast augmentation.

Critics said the lawsuit is frivolous.

“The right to speak anonymously is a fundamental right, particularly when you’re expressing opinion,” said attorney David Muraskin.

When WFTV went to Soto’s office for comment, we were directed to his blog, which said he only filed the suit to learn why his clients weren’t satisfied, and if possible, fix the problems. However, it does not say why he’s seeking damages.

COMMENTS

Lwfpe2: Obviously, he doesn’t want anyone to know about the screw ups. Perhaps they should come forward and go to the State Medical Review.

Elroy53: Other than disease (like cancer), women should not augment their breasts. They only do it for a man who has wrongfully brainwashed them into thinking that bigguns make her better. Those kind of women would be losers WITH or without 9 inch scars.

Getoutofl: This guy is a real class act.

RealityCzech: @elroy53, I completely disagree. The majority of women get fake boobs as a band-aid for their self-esteem. They have a “any kind of attention = happiness” mentality and they feel as though they will be more desirable to men if they have two gravity-defying basketballs in their shirt. Sadly, this is often the case. On the other hand, some women get lifts or small implants because their boobs are wrecked after having babies. But it all goes back to low self-esteem and not being comfortable in their body. Society seems to fuel this problem for most women.

Hillbilly1: You get what you paid for , more likely a low cost boob job .

AmandaBurns: Free advertising in a bad economy. Doesn’t say much for his own candor with his patients. He had to name them to sue them. If he knows who they are, why didn’t he dictate a nice letter asking them to come in and discuss the matter with him? Postage stamp would have been a lot cheaper than filing suit and a classier way to get their attention. All he did was draw attention to his own mistakes.

Bassfisher: Looks like a no repeat customer, all the plastics will have to go somewhere else. What’s really going to be funny is seeing all these actors when they get old and how ridiculous they look after all these injections/implants/face lifts.

Staticfl: I’d like to see pictures of successful augmentations. Also like to take them from a test run, motorboat style

HerbRice: These cases can last several years and go all the way to a state Supreme Court.

A man’s online post calling a doctor “a real tool” is protected speech, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled. The state’s highest court dismissed a case by Duluth neurologist David McKee, who took offense when a patient’s son posted critical remarks about him on rate-your-doctor websites. Those remarks included a claim that a nurse called the doctor “a real tool,” slang for stupid or foolish.

The court tossed a lawsuit filed by neurologist David McKee, who claimed he was defamed by several statements made by defendant Dennis Laurion on websites used to rate doctors, report the Duluth News Tribune, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Associated Press.

The lawsuit followed the hospitalization of Laurion’s father, Kenneth, for a hemorrhagic stroke at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth. Laurion, his mother and his wife were also in the room when McKee examined the father and made the statements that Laurion interpreted as rude.

Laurion expressed his dismay in several online posts with what he considered the doctor’s insensitive manner. Laurion had posted his comments on a website where patients review their doctors. The case has been watched with interest because of the potential conflict between free speech versus protection of professional reputations on the Internet.

On at least two sites, Laurion wrote that McKee said that “44 percent of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option,” and that “It doesn’t matter that the patient’s gown did not cover his backside.”

Laurion also wrote: “When I mentioned Dr. McKee’s name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, ‘Dr. McKee is a real tool!'”

He expected at most what he calls a “non-apology apology. I really thought I’d receive something within a few days along the lines of ‘I’m sorry you thought I was rude, that was not my intent’ and that would be the end of it,” the 66-year-old Duluth retiree said. “I certainly did not expect to be sued.”

He was. Dr. David McKee’s defamation lawsuit was the beginning of a four-year legal battle that ended Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the doctor had no legal claim against Laurion because there was no proof that his comments were false or were capable of harming the doctor’s reputation.

In 2011, State District Judge Eric Hylden ruled that McKee was not defamed by the criticism and dismissed the doctor’s lawsuit.

McKee appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals; and in January 2012, that court sent the case back to the district court for a jury to decide whether six statements Laurion posted about McKee on rate-your-doctor websites and
distributed elsewhere were defamatory.

Laurion appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the Supreme Court and the case was heard in St. Paul in September.

Writing the opinion, Justice Alan Page noted that McKee acknowledged that the gist of some of the statements were true, even if they were misinterpreted.

The ruling also said it doesn’t matter whether the unnamed nurse actually exists. McKee’s attorney argued that Laurion might have fabricated the nurse, something Laurion’s attorney denied. And it said the doctor’s objections to Laurion’s
other comments also failed the required legal tests.

“Referring to someone as ‘a real tool’ falls into the category of pure opinion because the term ‘real tool’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false,” Page wrote.

“I’m sure he and his family are very happy with this result,” Laurion’s attorney, John Kelly, said. “It’s been a long and difficult process for them.”

Laurion said the entire experience was stressful on his family. “The initial excitement has not worn off,” he told the News Tribune. “I’m very gratified it’s all over.”

Laurion, whose father survived the stroke and is now 87, said he feels vindicated — not in the sense that he’s proven the things he said, but that he had the right to express his opinion of a single encounter on a website designed to rate
doctors.

He regrets the cost of the litigation — in his case, the equivalent of two years’ income, he said, some of which he had to borrow from relatives who dipped into their retirement funds. “I regret that it became as painful as it was,” Laurion said. “I don’t think I regret having posted the comment. I thought at the time that it was my right to do so.”

McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, said he and McKee plan no further appeals and that they were disappointed with the ruling. McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, said Wednesday he was disappointed and frustrated. “We need to change the law so someone with a personal vendetta who is going to use the Internet to make defamatory statements can be held responsible,” he said.

It’s a frustrating end for McKee, 51, who said he’s spent at least $50,000 in legal fees and another $11,000 to clear his name online after the story went viral, resulting in hundreds more negative postings about him — likely from people
who never met him. He hasn’t ruled out a second lawsuit stemming from those posts.

“The financial costs are significant, but money is money, and five years from now I won’t notice the money I spent on this,” he said. “It’s been the harm to my reputation through the repeated publicity and the stress.”

He said he offered to settle the case at no cost after the Supreme Court hearing. Laurion contends they couldn’t agree on the terms of the settlement, and said he not only deleted his initial postings after he was initially served, but had
nothing to do with subsequent online statements about McKee.

Tanick said the ruling could present a slippery slope. “We feel it gives individuals undue license to make disparaging and derogatory statements about these people, particularly doctors and other licensed professionals, on the Internet without much recourse,” Tanick said.

Jane Kirtley disagreed. The professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism said the ruling stems from “an elementary principle of libel law. I understand the rhetoric, but this is not a blank check for
people to make false factual statements,” she said. “Rather, it’s an endorsement that statements of opinion are protected under the First Amendment.”

The case highlighted the tension that sometimes develops on ratings sites, such as Yelp and Angie’s List, when the free speech rights of patients clash with the rights of doctors, lawyers and other professionals to protect their good names.

Experts say lawsuits over negative professional reviews are relatively uncommon and rarely succeed, partly because the law favors freedom of speech.

Laurion’s attorney, John D. Kelly, said the fact that Laurion’s speech was made online was inconsequential to the ruling, which treated it as a standard defamation case. “It’s almost as if things were said around the water cooler or
perhaps posted in a letter to the editor,” he said. “I think the principles they worked with are applicable to statements made irrespective of the medium.”

While the decision is not binding in other states, Kelly and Tanick agreed that it might influence how other courts would rule on similar questions. Kelly said lawyers often look at rulings from other jurisdictions when they put cases together, sometimes for leads or guidance.

“Certainly this is a cutting edge issue and I’m sure lawyers and courts in other jurisdictions will pay attention to this decision and give it the weight it deserves,” Tanick said.

In reply to an e-patients.net article “Minnesota Supreme Court sides with patient on social media defamation suit,” Attorney Marilyn Mann said, “I think McKee’s lawyer is incorrect. The case turned on standard principles of defamation law and doesn’t really break new ground.”

Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson, who watched the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in September, said on Wednesday the justices made the right decision. That being said, “You can’t blame a guy like Dr. McKee for being upset,” Anfinson said. “What this case really exemplifies is not so much legal precepts in libel law, but the impact of the Internet on the ability to publish unflattering comments about people.”

Before the Internet, people who complained about others typically did so to a small group of family, friends and acquaintances. “No one in the wider world ever heard them,” Anfinson said. That is no longer the case.”

“If you’re a practicing physician or other professional in a highly competitive environment, and this stuff is out there for any potential patient or client to see, it isn’t as simple as a superficial reading of the Supreme Court opinion would
suggest,” he said. “I kind of feel for the guy, but the law as it is currently constituted really doesn’t provide him much of a remedy. That is the moral of the story.”

Anfinson was also interviewed by Minnesota Lawyer. He said, “Anyone who knew about the case, who observed the oral arguments, and who knows something about libel law is about as unsurprised with this result as they can be. It’s about as perfunctory and routine as the Supreme Court ever gets. It was a completely straightforward application of long-settled libel-law rules.”

Anfinson said the case is more significant for social commentary purposes than for its legal analysis, noting that perhaps the justices only accepted the case to fix an error of the Court of Appeals.

Commenting about this case on his own blog, February 8, 2013, Aaron Kelly, internet law & defamation law attorney, said “Thanks to the First Amendment, free speech is the law of that land, and that means being able to communicate our views publicly – no matter how offensive.”

Mark A Fischer of Duane Morris LLP, a full-service law firm with more than 700 attorneys in 24 offices in the United States and internationally, said on February 11, 2013, “For those who are under criticism, one of the practical
consequences of bringing a defamation action is that more publicity for the accused statements is almost an inevitable result, whether the statements are ultimately found libelous or not. In other words, in weighing the pros and cons
of initiating a lawsuit, all potential defamation and privacy claim plaintiffs should consider the rule of Hippocrates applicable to physicians, ‘First do no harm.’”

In his Technology & Marketing Law Blog, Eric Goldman said on February 4, 2013, “I’ve been tracking doctor v. patient lawsuits for online reviews. See my compilation. As you can see from a quick perusal, doctors usually lose or
voluntarily drop these lawsuits. Indeed, with surprising frequency, doctors end the lawsuit by writing a check to the defendant for the defendant’s attorneys’ fees where the state has a robust anti-SLAPP law. Doctors and other healthcare
professionals thinking of suing over online reviews, take note: you’re likely to lose in court, so legal proceedings should be an absolute last-resort option–and even then, they might not be worth pursuing.

See:

Minneapolis Star Tribune, JAN 30, 2013

Duluth News Tribune, JAN 30, 2013

Associated Press, JAN 30, 2013

http://www.mncourts.gov/opinions/sc/current/OPA111154-0130.pdf.

Dr Armando Soto: Some time ago, we became aware of a collection of internet posts that bore no resemblance to truthful patient experiences in our practice. There have also been, over the years, a small number of other negative opinions expressed, with which we were not as concerned, understanding that we can never make everybody happy, and that the people involved were not going to be possible for us to please, no matter how hard we tried.

However, because this particular collection of posts included multiple untruthful representations of fact, because they include duplication of complaints with subtle differences and different usernames to make it look as though written by multiple people (when in reality a single person was responsible), and because some included no truth at all (again, in statements represented as fact), we felt it important to pursue the matter.

Why? Well, first of all, because as a professional who takes his relationships with his patients and their complete satisfaction as seriously as I do, it was important to me that I do everything possible to understand (for the benefit of this individual as well as my practice) why this person had not expressed any legitimate complaints to me directly and allowed us to guide her through a thoughtful and appropriate course of action prior to posting untruthful and damaging things about me on the web. The vast majority of my patients would attest, I believe, to the extreme dedication to patient satisfaction we practice in my office every day- and I believe it is evident to them that we often do so even when not in our financial best interests. In other words, we believe win doing the right thing- and did not understand why someone would do this.

Secondly, there is no one alive today that is more thankful for the opportunities, freedoms, and rights that we as Americans enjoy than me. I am a living example of The American Dream. I simply would not have been able to achieve everything I have in any other nation on Earth, and I am deeply grateful for that. For the legal eagles at Public Citizen to say that I am trying to “squelch free speech” is ignorant, offensive, and more importantly, untrue.

I believe all of our constitutional rights- including the right to free speech are valuable and ought to be protected- but as an American who HAS worked so hard to accomplish everything I have, I also believe (just as strongly) that we have a right to protect our good names from libel and slander. These rights are no less important.

I believe the zealous, if misguided people at Public Citizen have an ax to grind on this issue of internet free speech, and would like to use me as their stone… but this is simply not my issue. I’ve got no problem with free expression of opinion. Just libel and slander. Thank God that in America, we recognize a difference.

The reason all of the people who complained on the web about me were named in the suit is because it was necessary to do so in order to identify this one person. It is also required that damages requested be stipulated- but our goal was never to attempt to recover money. Our goal was to identify the person involved, come to an understanding of the causes of her behavior, and bring light to the truth, while hopefully recovering a more healthy doctor-patient relationship and achieving her satisfaction.

Experience has shown that the most vocal and happy clients/patients of any business are those who may have been initially displeased and were then won over by the establishment’s skills at recovering their satisfaction and trust. It has been our goal to have this opportunity with this person, and I am pleased to say we are on our way to achieving this end.

I have no problem with the occasional patient expressing a negative opinion of me. The fact is that even a cursory review of my education, training, experience, work product, and the vast majority of prior patient experiences would reveal a level of success and accomplishment with which I believe I can be rightfully proud, and which belies the idea being pushed by the brilliant minds at Public Citizen- that I am a poorly qualified surgeon who is trying to keep the word of my incompetence from getting out somehow by suing all critics into submission.

The truth is that the lawsuit we filed had a very limited purpose- to identify the person responsible for this one particular collection of fraudulent and defamatory (because they included multiple representations of fact that could be objectively proven to be false) posts. The suit served that purpose.

Indeed, not only have we established communication with the person involved, but she has admitted to the activity outlined above, and has agreed to remove all of these posts… And here is the amazing thing- her request of me is that I take her back as a patient!

Let’s reflect for a moment on this…. If the ugly things she says about me in her posts, or the ugly things that the amazing intellectual powers at Public Citizen would have people believe about my practice are true, why would she want me to be her surgeon again??

To summarize, I have no problem with the reality that there are always going to be some people who have a negative opinion of me as a professional, despite my best efforts. But I believe I have a right to protect my reputation when behavior crosses the line towards libel and slander. In this particular case, thankfully, the patient has admitted her wrongdoing, agreed to resolve the issues with me, and even asked that I take her back as a patient- such is her true assessment of me.

BBoop: I am a former patient of Dr. Soto. I can honestly say he is a man of integrity, highly educated and highly skilled at what he does. I had interviewed 7 plastic surgeons before I interviewed him and instantly knew he would be my choice for plastic surgeon. He puts you at ease and is honest with his recommendations. He performed several surgeries and I have to say my life has definitely changed for the better. No amount of exercise could have made me look the way I do (although the exercise I now do KEEPS me looking the way I do). I would recommend Dr. Soto to anyone. I often refer to him as “Dr. Michelangelo” the sculptor. DR. SOTO IS THE REAL DEAL!

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Business Insider: A Doctor Sued A Patient For Posting Negative Online Reviews About Her Breast Augmentation

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MAY 23, 2012

“A Doctor Sued A Patient For Posting Negative Online Reviews About Her Breast Augmentation”

Mandy Woodruff, Business Insider

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Writing bad reviews can get you sued?

An Orlando woman was slapped with a lawsuit after she blasted her plastic surgeon on RateMDs.com for what she said was a botched breast augmentation.

Dr. Armando Soto went public with his intent to sue the woman for defamation, writing in a blog post that she allegedly asked friends to post duplicates of her review on the site as well.

In one comment, she complained of a “horrific” 9-inch scar left by the procedure and said the implants were too large: “My breasts are uneven and I was charged for a procedure which two other surgeons have said was not done.”

Once Soto tracked down the poster (he had to go through an attorney after RateMDs refused to turn over her identity) and filed a $49,000 suit for libel and defamation.

Whether or not her allegations were true, it looks like the woman’s agreed to back down in exchange for a corrective procedure. “The good news is that we are now working collaboratively toward the goal of achieving her complete satisfaction, and she has agreed to remove these posts, as well as those falsely placed by her friends,” Soto wrote.

While it looks like the poster was convinced to remove the post, it’s unlikely lawsuits like Soto’s would stand in court anyway, a consumer advocate says.

“The right to speak anonymously is a fundamental right, particularly when you’re expressing opinion,” consumer attorney David Muraskin, told Orlando’s WFTV.

COMMENTS:

Milly Cooper: American capitalistic free-market utopia at work.

Kathleen: How would they know who to sue if they signed anonymous? A bad publicity like this could ruin the surgeon’s career if proven true. I guess he should start operating good result so angry women would not rave on him.

Dr Armando Soto: Because it seems some portion of the citizenry remains confused about the truth of the issues involved in my recent dispute with a former patient, I would like to clear the air. The following are the facts of the situation. They are facts, and they are not in dispute.

The woman in question has admitted to posting negative and harmful things about me.

She has also admitted to posting many duplicates with variation and with different usernames, to make it look like the posts were written by many people.

She has admitted to asking her family members to write ugly and untrue things about me. These family members have never met me, much less been my patients.

Some of the things she wrote were her opinions, but others were statements of fact that I could prove to be untrue.

In summary, those who argue that I and others like me should not be allowed to restrict Americans’ right to free speech are woefully missing the point. I completely support free expression of opinions- as (thankfully) does our system of laws. I also spent a large portion of my energy protecting this person from public identification and other harm- because my goal was to achieve a satisfied patient- not to punish her as has been reported or opined.

What I do not support, however, is the idea that any American should have to tolerate the fraudulent and defamatory behavior the facts above reflect. In America (thankfully) we make a distinction between opinion and defamation.      Whether you are a plumber, an architect, a lawyer, or a painter, I don’t believe any reasonable person would say that attacks like the one I have experienced should be protected by law- but this requires understanding that the circumstances of this situation did NOT involve protection of her opinions.

Thankfully, the patient and I were able to finally have the healthy and constructive communication necessary to resolve our problems without escalation, and we are both happy with the resolution.

It is important to realize that at some point, we will all become ill or injured and need a healthcare provider… and that the quality of the care you get, the outcome you achieve, and the quality of the experience you have, will all necessarily depend on the relationship you have with your doctors.

This doctor-patient relationship is what is really damaged when any individual resorts to the Internet rather than openly discussing their concerns with their physician- and their care ultimately suffers for it.

One of the reasons I believe I do enjoy such a positive relationship with the vast majority of my patients is because open communication is so highly valued in my practice. Spending time, listening, talking, understanding each other… these are the characteristics of an important relationship- and they are fundamental to good health care whether discussing heart surgery or a facelift.

So the real take home message for all patients ought to be- find doctors you like and trust- then treat the relationship you build with them with the respect and care you would any other important relationship. Your care will ultimately be better, your outcomes better, and your experience more positive.

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ABC Action News: Florida Plastic Surgeon Sues His Internet Critics

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May 22, 2012

“Florida Plastic Surgeon Sues His Internet Critics”

Brendan McLaughlin, ABC Action News, Orlando, Florida

 Wordpress-Trying-Our-PatientsWordpress-Trying-Our-Patients

 

 

TAMPA – Whether you are looking for a good doctor, pool contractor or piano tuner, the internet has countless sites where you can get other people’s opinions.

But one plastic surgeon in Orlando decided comments posted about him on a ratings site for doctors were libelous and he’s suing the posters.

Dr. Armando Soto’s website has glowing testimonials from patients delighted with his surgical tucks, lifts, reductions and augmentations.

But look up Dr. Soto on RateMDs.com and you’ll get a different impression.

Some posters are full of praise saying Dr. Soto did “an amazing job.”

But another writer calls him “Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, cold, uncaring and rude.”

Another complains that “the 9″ scars are horrific and I was charged for a procedure which two other surgeons have said was not done.”

Dr. Soto is suing these posters, who are not named in the lawsuit.

We asked Jay Wolfson of the University of South Florida’s Health department, who is a doctor and a lawyer,  if these internet posters should be nervous.

“Consumers of goods and services, whether it’s plumbing services or breast augmentation, have an absolute freedom of speech right to express their opinions as to the character and quality of services and products they’ve received without fear of legal reprisal,” said Wolfson.

Dr. Wolfson points to websites like Angie’s List, set up specifically for people to share their experiences, good or bad. And while opinions are protected, direct accusations may not be.

“If I make a factual assertion about you that is going to put you in a false light and affect your position in the community or your income, then that’s what this is all about,” said Wolfson.

Dr. Soto is seeking $49,000 in damages from the defendants who are not yet named in any court documents.   Proving those damages may not be easy, and Dr. Soto may, in the process be calling more negative attention to his practice.

“He’s probably contributed 90 percent to any damage that could be claimed by filing the lawsuit,” said Wolfson.

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