MAY 2, 2011
“Physicians who sue patients don’t get what they want”
A physician claiming he was defamed online by a former patient’s son lost his court case after the judge dismissed the suit. The case illustrates the perils of suing when a patient criticizes a physician online. The case in Minnesota was against one known defendant, the son of a patient who alleged that neurosurgeon David McKee, MD, became upset in consulting with the family about the patient’s condition, and that Dr. McKee didn’t treat the patient with dignity.
Patient feedback via the Internet can be negative, anonymous, and even unfair, and physicians often sue to protect carefully cultivated professional reputations. For example, plastic surgeon Kimberly Henry, MD, is pursuing by their online aliases 12 defendants who posted critical comments. That case is ongoing.
The outcomes for physicians who sue patients for online reviews can be mixed, at best. California dentist Gelareh Rahbar, DDS, sued a former patient who described a procedure as “mouth torture.” But a judge tossed the suit under the state’s anti-SLAPP law, which stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation–any attempt to use the courts to squelch allowed free speech. The dentist had to pay $43,000 for his patient’s legal fees.