Former Patient Sued Over Negative Yelp Review
KIRO 7 TV
November 6, 2015
When Wendy Wester felt she was treated wrongly by a Bellevue doctor, she felt safe when she took her frustrations to Yelp, to send a negative review. Her target was Dr. Alan Brown, an orthopedic surgeon. Wester wrote that Brown misdiagnosed her knee injury, and because of the misdiagnosis, she says she suffered a blood clot, which could have threatened her life.
Wester said after she suffered torn ligaments from a skiing accident, Dr. Brown diagnosed her knee injury as a torn MCL, which would not require surgery. She said even after appointments with Dr. Brown the next day, her actual injury — a torn ACL — was not diagnosed until she went to another doctor.
She wrote that she suffered a life-threatening blood clot from the actual injury.
According to the Yelp review and court documents, Wester wrote: “His enormous ego nearly cost me my life. It is an understatement to say that I would not recommend him – ever.”
Dr. Brown, who also has a law degree, is now suing Wester for defamation. His suit, filed last week, says Wester made false and malicious statements, and damaged his business and reputation.
Wester’s attorney told KIRO 7 she had every right to publicly state her opinion. “She felt so strongly about what happened to her that she wanted to let other people to know what she had experienced and what her opinion about this doctor was,” said Seattle attorney Brad Davis. “I think (the lawsuit) is crazy.”
According to Dr. Brown’s suit, Wester was not merely stating her opinion. The title of the suit reads “Complaint for Intentional Interference with Contractual or Business Relations and for Defamation.”
“Everything my client said in the Yelp review was factual, was true, and or was opinion based upon her perspective.”Davis says that makes her Yelp comments Free Speech, protected by the First Amendment.
But it turns out, not everything posted on Yelp is legally protected. “It is whole new territory, uncharted territory, where the damages can be remarkable,” said Seattle University law professor Bryan Adamson, who says legally–Yelp opinions are protected–but if you get facts wrong–it could land you in court. “There are risks when you make statements,” he said. Professor Adamson says Yelpers should use caution. “If they say the wrong thing about the wrong person, and that person wants to sue for defamation, then that becomes a question of fact for a court to decide.”
Congress is now taking up a bill that would protect people who give businesses bad reviews online from expensive lawsuits.
Davis says his client will be vindicated. “I think ultimately the case will be dismissed in my opinion,” he said. “It’s ironic here that Yelp creates a forum to provide opinions, and yet this doctor has chosen to use Yelp as a basis for a claim of defamation,” Davis said.