When Social Media Becomes a Social Piranha

By Renee Dustman

Word of mouth has always been a highly effective form of advertisement, and social media has increased its effectiveness exponentially. This is great news if the word is good, but what if the word is bad? Before the Internet, a dissatisfied patient might have voiced his opinion of you to just a few people. Today, one dissatisfied patient can spread the word to millions in a matter of seconds. Justified or not, should you rebuke a defamatory statement about you posted online?

Based on past experience, many will tell you it’s best not to do anything, or suffer the “me thinks he doth protest too much” syndrome, more recently coined the “Streisand Effect” after singer Barbara Streisand tried to have a photo of her home—one among thousands of pictures that were part of an online display showing coastline erosion in California—deleted from that site. The result was much unwanted publicity—far more than what Streisand would’ve received had she kept silent.

That incident was merely a violation of privacy issue. Defamation of character can be far more serious, especially for a physician.

The jury is still out on whether it will pay off for Dr. David McKee, a neurologist from Duluth, Minn., to sue a patient’s family member for defamation after the man posted negative reviews of him online.

“You can exacerbate the situation if you respond too combatively—and that can lead to more negative comments,” says Brent Franson, vice president of Reputation.com, a company that offers an online “reputation management service” that is now a benefit offered to members of the American Medical Association (AMA).

Franson told ModernHealthcare.com that privacy concerns also could arise when doctors respond online to a website’s review. He recommends being “very polite and specific” when doing so—otherwise the Streisand Effect can get started.

For more on this story, read “The ratings game: Online physician-review sites pose legal challenges,” by Andis Robeznieks for ModernHealthcare.com.



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12 Responses to “When Social Media Becomes a Social Piranha”

  1. Content Scraper says:

    Online physician-review sites pose legal challenges
    Modern Health Care, November 10, 2012
    By Andis Robeznieks

    People who sue people may receive more undesired attention than anyone else in the world.

    That is the general idea behind the “Streisand Effect,” a phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to stifle publicity creates more publicity for something that might never have received much attention in the first place.

    According to legend, the term was coined when singer Barbra Streisand tried to have a photo of her home—one among thousands of pictures that were part of an online display showing coastline erosion in California—deleted from that site. The ensuing publicity essentially guaranteed the image will never disappear from the Internet.

    It could be unlikely that combative efforts to counter negative profiles on physician review websites will lead to a similar occurrence known as a the “Dr. McKee Effect,” but no one can predict how these things turn out.

    Dr. David McKee, a neurologist from Duluth, Minn., is suing a patient’s family member for defamation after the man posted negative reviews of him online. The case was argued in September before the Minnesota Supreme Court and, while its legal precedent-setting impact might not extend beyond the state’s boundaries, attorneys for both sides say it could serve as a guide in future legal proceedings – wherever the jurisdiction may be.

    The parties are awaiting a decision from Minnesota’s high court since the trial is over, but the discussion it spawned appears to be just getting started.

    “You can exacerbate the situation if you respond too combatively—and that can lead to more negative comments,” says Brent Franson, vice president of Reputation.com, a company that offers an online “reputation management service” that is now a benefit offered to members of the American Medical Association.

    Franson says privacy concerns also can arise when doctors respond online to a website’s review, and he recommends being “very polite and specific” when doing so—otherwise the Streisand Effect can get started. For example, according to the review Dennis Laurion posted about McKee on several websites, a nurse told him “Dr. McKee is a real tool.” That phrase is now etched forever in a Minnesota Appellate Court opinion that can be found online, and a Google search of “’David McKee’ + ‘real tool’ ” will pull up more than 4,300 online references to the case.

    That story began with Laurion’s father spending two days in an intensive-care unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth after a hemorrhagic stroke in April 2010. According to the review Laurion posted, McKee walked into his father’s room and “seemed upset” the patient had been moved and said, “When you weren’t in ICU, I had to spend time finding out if you transferred or died.” When that remark was met with surprise, Laurion wrote that McKee said, “Well, 44% of hemorrhagic strokes die with 30 days. I guess this is the better option.”

    The appellate court opinion notes how McKee reportedly dismissed the patient’s unwillingness to get out of bed and walk while wearing a hospital gown that was open in back. The appellate court decision adds that Laurion also sent letters to the hospital and various medical associations telling a story of the doctor blaming the patient for the loss of his time and treating Laurion’s father as a “task and charting assignment.”

    While a district court dismissed McKee’s defamation suit, the state appellate court – in a Jan. 23, 2012 decision – ruled in the doctor’s favor and remanded the case for trial. It asserts that, while opinions, true statements and vague statements are generally non-actionable, McKee had challenged 11 comments Laurion made as false statements presented as fact. The appellate court ruled that six of them were statements of fact rather than an opinion, and that it was up to a jury to decide whether they were true or false and defamatory. But rather than go before a jury, Laurion won an appeal, and the case went to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    The appellate court cited a previous decision that states how “inaccuracies of expression or detail” do not establish the falsity element in a defamation claim, for “a statement is substantially accurate if its gist or sting is true,” and it notes that Laurion’s versions of the story may carry a different “sting” than McKee’s. For example, Laurion claims McKee walked past family members who were waiting in the hallway without speaking to them. McKee didn’t dispute that, the court opinion noted, but says McKee didn’t speak to them because he didn’t see them.

    McKee’s attorney, Marshall Tanick with Edina, Minn.-based Hellmuth & Johnson, says the issue is whether Laurion maliciously made false statements in his reviews with the intent of harming McKee’s reputation. “He’s not suing over statements of opinion,” Tanick explains. Laurion “says he’s entitled to his opinion—which we don’t dispute.”

    Laurion’s attorney, John Kelly with Duluth-based Hanft Fride, says the appellate court tried to “split the baby” in ruling that six of the 11 statements McKee challenged were presented as facts and not opinions, and he notes that—by agreeing to hear the case – the high court might have seen it differently. “It is unkind, but not defamatory to call someone a jerk,” Kelly says. “The same argument goes for the use of the word ‘tool.’ ”

    Kelly says these types of cases are new, but he hesitated to say whether this particular case would set precedent or be used in business textbooks about what not to do. “I’ll leave that for others,” Kelly says. “What you’ve got here is a situation where it has been said by McKee that this whole thing blew up because Mr. Laurion was somehow out to get him.”

    What that overlooks, Kelly says, is his client, and his client’s wife, father and mother witnessed McKee’s behavior and “were all upset by what they perceived” and expressed their opinion about that. He adds that Laurion’s review was about McKee’s “brusqueness and insensitivity,” and there have been no suggestions that the doctor provided improper care.

    Because there have been so few cases like this argued before a high-level court, Tanick says he thinks “it will help develop the field of law.”

  2. Charlie Albright says:

    Thanks Renee. Let me put in my thoughts to go along with your report.

    1. I think we can fear social media a bit to much. Social media does not create a new world it just increase a network. There is no difference in substance in Joe telling his friends that Dr. Holden is a quack at a neighborhood bar-b-q or on Facebook. The difference is that he is going to communicate to more people. Joe is still Joe and just because he says it to more people does not mean that what he says is credible. If one spend any time on the internet you are going to read reviews on google which bash places you love. There may be some people who get swayed. But lets not treat this like it will make or break a company if someone gets ticked and writes a bad review on Facebook.

    2. Skilled advertisers can use social media to their advantage. Just as Joe has spewed his distaste for Dr. Holden on Facebook Betty can proclaim his praises in the same manner. Instead of standing back in fear one can utilize social media for their benefit.

    3. Being reasonable and desiring feed back is a great practice on social media. instead of thinking you have a destroy every criticism in the manner of a tomahawk missile you can approach criticism humbly. Being willing to say things with the substance of, “thank you for your helpful input, we will look into solving this issue” disarms the attacker and tells everybody else we listen and care.

  3. Tribune Reader says:

    Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune, Updated January 30, 2013 – 9:59 PM

    Finding no harm done, justices toss out lawsuit by Duluth physician.

    Dennis Laurion fired off his screed on a few rate-your-doctor websites in April 2010, along with some letters about what he saw as poor bedside manner by his father’s neurologist. 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.

    The unanimous ruling reverses an earlier Appeals Court decision and brings to an end the closely watched case that brought to the forefront a First Amendment debate over the limits of free speech online.

    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.

    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. After his father was discharged, he wrote the reviews and sent the letters.

    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!'”

    McKee sued after he learned of the postings from another patient. A St. Louis County judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Laurion’s statements were either protected opinion, substantially true or too vague to convey a defamatory meaning. The Appeals Court reversed that ruling regarding six of Laurion’s statements, reasoning that they were factual assertions and not opinions, that they harmed McKee’s reputation and that they could be proven as false.

    The Supreme Court disagreed. 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. Page added that the “tool” statements also didn’t pass the test of defaming McKee’s character. He dismissed an argument by McKee’s attorney, Marshall Tanick, that the “tool” comment was fabricated by Laurion and that the nurse never existed. Whether it was fabricated or not was irrelevant, the court ruled.

    “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.

    Tanick said the ruling could present a slippery slope.

    “This decision gives individuals a license to make derogatory and disparaging statements about doctors, professionals and really anyone for that matter on the Internet without much recourse,” he 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.”

    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.”

    Comments: http://comments.startribune.com/comments.php?d=content_comments&asset_id=189028521&sort=E&section=/local&page_nbr=2&ipp=10

  4. Free Speech says:

    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.”

    Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, told the Star Tribune that the ruling stems from “an elementary principle of libel law.” She said that this isn’t a blank check for people to make false factual statements. She said, rather, that it’s “an endorsement that statements of opinion are protected under the First Amendment.”

    According to the Duluth News Tribune, Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson, who watched the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in September, said that the justices made the right decision. Anfinson also told the News Tribune, “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.”

    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.

    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.”

    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. . . 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.”

  5. Dennis says:

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

    Five years from now, I’ll notice the money I spent on this. The plaintiff’s first contact with me was a letter that said in part that he had the means and motivation to pursue me. The financial impact of being sued three years to date has been burdensome, a game of financial attrition that I haven’t wanted to play. The suit cost me the equivalent of two year’s net income – the same as 48 of my car payments plus 48 of my house payments. My family members had to dip into retirement funds to help me.

    Medical peer newsletters or magazines that interviewed the plaintiff did not approach me. Websites maintained by doctors for doctors or lawyers for lawyers often caused an inference that I was a zealot family member or somebody who had asked about my dad’s chances and then shot the messenger. Generally, however, those websites echoed other websites in advising public relations responses other than a lawsuit – for fear of creating the “Streisand Effect.” As a retired layman, I brought far less resources to the battle of financial attrition.

    I’ve learned that laws about slander and libel do not conform to one’s expectations. I’ve read that online complaints are safe “if you stick to the facts.” That’s exactly the wrong advice. I did not want to merely post my conclusions. I wanted to stick to my recollection of what I’d heard. I don’t like to read generalities like “I’m upset. He did not treat my father well. He was insensitive. He didn’t spend enough time in my opinion.” However, such generalities are excused as opinion, hyperbole, or angry utterances. If one purports to say what happened, factual recitations can be litigated. The plaintiff must prove the facts are willfully misstated, but the defendant can go broke while waiting through the effort.

    I feel that defamation lawsuits are much too easy for wealthy plaintiffs. If I were to attempt suing a doctor for malpractice, my case would not proceed until I’d obtained an affidavit from another doctor, declaring that the defendant’s actions did not conform to established procedures. In a defamation suit, there’s generally no exit short of a judge’s dismissal order – which can be appealed by the plaintiff. Being called “defendant” is terribly personal, but the civil suit path is totally impersonal. During the three years that I went through depositions, interrogatories, a dismissal hearing, an appellate hearing, and a state Supreme Court hearing; I never once spoke to a judge. At depositions, the plaintiff and I sat opposite each other, while I answered his lawyer’s questions, and he answered my lawyer ‘s questions. We were not to speak to each other.

  6. McKee V Laurion says:

    McKee v Laurion cited as precedent by UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT upon Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

    Page 13 of http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Unpublished/121287.U.pdf says: McKee v. Laurion , 825 N.W.2d 725, 729 – 30 (Minn. 2013) A defamation claim cannot be based on a true statement. “True statements” include statements that are “true in substance” and contain only “minor inaccuracies of expression or detail.” In articulating this standard, the Minnesota courts explain that “substantial truth ” means that “the substance, the gist, the sting , of the libelous charge [is] justified” and the statement “would have the same effect on the mind of the reader or listener as that which the pleaded truth would have produced.”

  7. Herb Rice says:

    This is still being discussed.

    The Top Lawsuits Of 2013
    by Steve Kaplan
    December 20, 2013

    Never Shout “He’s a Tool!” On a Crowded Website?

    Dr. David McKee, a Duluth neurologist, was not laughing when he saw what one former client wrote about him on a doctor-rating website. The reviewer, Dennis Laurion, complained that McKee made statements that he interpreted as rude and quoted a nurse who had called the doctor “a real tool.” As these statements echoed through the Internet, McKee felt his reputation was being tarnished. He sued, and so began a four-year journey that ended this year in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    Laurion was unhappy with the way McKee treated his father, who was brought to the doctor after he had a stroke. Laurion went to several rate-your-doctor sites to give his opinion. That’s just free speech, isn’t it?

    It sure is, says Laurion’s attorney, John D. Kelly of the Duluth firm Hanft Fride. “The court held that what my client was quoted as saying was not defamatory,” he says. “I do think the Internet makes it much easier for persons exercising poor judgment to broadcast defamatory statements, however… a medium… doesn’t change the quality of a statement from non-defamatory to defamatory.”

    But McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, of Hellmuth & Johnson, says no matter where it was said, defamation is defamation. “The thing that’s often misunderstood is that this was not just about free speech, but about making actual false statements,” Tanick says. “The problem is today’s unfettered opportunity to express opinion, whether or not the substance of what’s said is true or not. We need some boundaries.”

    But boundaries were not on the minds of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Free speech was. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote, “The point of the post is, ‘This doctor did not treat my father well.’ I can’t grasp why that wouldn’t be protected opinion.” As to referring to the doctor as “a real tool,” Justice Alan Page wrote that the insult “falls into the category of pure opinion because the term … cannot be reasonably interpreted as a fact and it cannot be proven true or false.”

    The takeaway from this case might be the knowledge that behind any rating service lie real people with real feelings. McKee spent more than $60,000 in the effort to clear his name, as he saw it. Dennis Laurion told the Star Tribune he spent the equivalent of two years’ income, some of which he had to borrow from relatives who supplied the money by raiding their retirement funds.

    See rest of article: http://tcbmag.com/Industries/Law/2013-Lawsuits-Of-The-Year

  8. Dennis says:

    [quote] But McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, of Hellmuth & Johnson, says no matter where it was said, defamation is defamation. “The thing that’s often misunderstood is that this was not just about free speech, but about making actual false statements,” Tanick says. “The problem is today’s unfettered opportunity to express opinion, whether or not the substance of what’s said is true or not. We need some boundaries.” [/ qoute]

    [MY REPLY] In spite of Supreme Court disagreement and subsequent peer disagreement, Marshall Tanick is STILL saying about David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion: “The thing that’s often misunderstood is that THIS WAS NOT JUST ABOUT FREE SPEECH, BUT ABOUT MAKING ACTUAL FALSE STATEMENTS. The problem is today’s unfettered opportunity to express opinion, whether or not the substance of what’s said is true or not. We need some boundaries.”

    From the American Health Lawyers Association: IN THIS CASE, THE COURT FOUND THE SIX ALLEGEDLY DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS WERE NOT ACTIONABLE BECAUSE THE “SUBSTANCE, THE GIST, THE STING” OF PLAINTIFF’S VERSION FOR EACH OF THE STATEMENTS AS PROVIDED IN DEPOSITION AND DEFENDANT’S VERSION ESSENTIALLY CARRIED THE SAME MEANING, satisfied the standard for substantial truth, did not show a tendency to harm the plaintiff’s reputation and lower his estimation in the community, or were incapable of conveying a defamatory meaning (e.g., when a nurse told defendant that plaintiff was “a real tool”) based on “how an ordinary person understands the language used in the light of surrounding circumstances.”

    From the Business Insurance Blog: THE MINNESOTA HIGH COURT SAID, FOR INSTANCE, THAT DR. MCKEE’S VERSION OF HIS COMMENT ABOUT THE INTENSIVE CARE UNIT WAS SUBSTANTIALLY SIMILAR TO MR. LAURION’S. “In other words, Dr. McKee’s account of what he said would produce the same effect on the mind of the reader,” the court said. “The minor inaccuracies of expression (in the statement) as compared to Dr. McKee’s version of what he said do not give rise to a genuine issue as to falsity.”

    From the Duane Morris Media Blog: The doctor said in his deposition that with regard to finding out if Mr. Laurion was alive or dead, “I made a jocular comment… to the effect of I had looked for [Kenneth Laurion] up there in the intensive care unit and was glad to find that, when he wasn’t there, that he had been moved to a regular hospital bed, because you only go one of two ways when you leave the intensive care unit; you either have improved to the point where you’re someplace like this or you leave because you’ve died.” THE COURT SAID THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO VERSIONS OF THE STATEMENTS ABOUT DEATH OR TRANSFER BY BOTH PLAINTIFF AND DEFENDANT WERE SO MINOR THAT THERE WAS NO FALSITY IN THE WEBSITE POSTINGS. In other words, the court indicated that the allegation about the statement was true. [/ my reply]

  9. Harry Nevus says:

    Insult And Injury: How Doctors Are Losing The War Against Trolls
    BuzzFeed – Jake Rossen

    David McKee, M.D., a Duluth, Minn., neurologist, was unaware of the Streisand phenomenon at the time he decided to sue Dennis Laurion. Laurion’s father, Kenneth, had suffered a stroke in April 2010; McKee was called in to assess Kenneth’s condition.

    According to the Laurions, McKee was oblivious to Kenneth’s modesty. “His son was right there,” McKee counters. “If he was concerned about the gown, he didn’t get out of his chair to tie it.”

    Dennis Laurion consulted with his family to see if his impression of the arrogant doctor was real or imagined. He fired off a dozen or more letters to a variety of medical institutions, including the hospital’s ombudsman, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, Medicare, and the American Medical Association.

    McKee sued Laurion for defamation. A local Duluth newspaper picked up on the story, favoring Laurion’s interpretation of events.

    In April 2011, the judge granted Laurion’s motion for summary judgment, ruling his comments were protected free speech. A user on Reddit.com posted the newspaper story. Almost overnight, dozens of “reviews” popped up on RateMDs.com and other sites with outlandish commentary on McKee, who was referred to as “the dickface doctor of Duluth.”

    McKee found no easy way to exit the situation. “You get drawn in,” he says, suggesting his lawyer nudged him into further action. “It’s throwing good money after bad. … I wanted out almost as soon as I got in, and it was always, ‘Well, just one more step.’” McKee appealed, and the summary judgment was overturned. The case, and the measurable impact of being labeled a “real tool,” was now headed for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    McKee was rated for several years as a top provider in Duluth Superior Magazine, but “From now until the end of time, I’ll be the jerk neurologist who was rude to a World War II veteran,” the physician says. “I’m stuck with it forever.”

    Full article:

  10. Uranus says:

    UW-Whitewater professor sues student over postings

    By Associated Press 22 May 2014

    A University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor is suing a former graduate student who posted online comments and videos that the teacher considers defamatory.

    Anthony Llewellyn took a class last year from communications professor Sally Vogl-Bauer, but the experience didn’t go well.

    Llewellyn posted comments on professor-rating sites accusing the teacher of criticizing his academic abilities, grading him unfairly and causing him to fail out of school. He said he spoke with her in April about his concerns, two months before he was told he had failed her class.

    Vogl-Bauer contends the comments amount to defamation, while Llewellyn says his goal was simply to inform the public about how the professor treated him.

    Tim Edwards, the attorney representing Vogl-Bauer, said the comments could be especially damaging to someone in a small professional community. He said he and Vogl-Bauer agree that students should be allowed to express their opinions, “but when you go so far beyond that, into a concerted effort to attack somebody’s reputation because things didn’t go your way, that’s much different.”
    Edwards and Vogl-Bauer asked Llewellyn to take down his online comments and videos. They filed the lawsuit after he refused.

    Llewellyn said it’s important for the videos and comments to stay online so the public can remain informed.

    It’s not clear how successful the lawsuit will be, but a similar case in Minnesota ended with a ruling in favor of the person who posted the online rating. In the case (David McKee MD vs Dennis Laurion), a doctor took offense when a patient’s son went on a rate-your-doctor website and called him “a real tool,” slang for stupid or foolish. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in January 2013 that the comment wasn’t defamatory because it was an opinion protected by free-speech rights.

  11. Court Watch says:

    Here’s another teacher, besides Sally Vogl-Bauer of Wisconsin, who should have learned about the Streisand Effect from Neurologist David McKee of Minnesota – Elizabeth Ethredge of Texas.

    “Texas teacher sues two students for defamation”
    Posted By Kristen Butler, UPI, May 13, 2013

    May 13 (UPI) — High school English teacher Elizabeth Ethredge has filed suit against two students claiming she was suspended and may be fired because they told the principal that she had asked her class to stalk a suspected thief on Facebook. Ethredge claims she was giving an “oral storytelling” lesson in November 2012 when she told her class an anecdote about her son having personal property stolen at a high school in another district, reports Courthouse News Service.

    The complaint states that Ethredge “mentioned to her students that they might be able to help recover her son’s property.” She invited any student with a Facebook account to help by messaging the suspected thief to try and purchase the stolen item from him.

    Ethredge claims the two students only brought it up months later, in March of this year, when she sent them to the principal’s office for disruptive behavior and a dress code violation.

    “Defendants wrote statements about the oral storytelling exercise that were clearly retaliatory in nature, designed to take the focus off of their inappropriate behavior and to instead focus the principal’s attention on plaintiff,” the complaint states.

    As further evidence of the students’ alleged “deliberate and malicious intent to injure plaintiff’s reputation,” the complaint shows that one student posted a message to Facebook during school hours that said, “Hey Ethredge, “I threw stones at your house” what you got for me big bada**? Case closed!”

    The second student named in the suit commented on the post, saying “Hahahahah [expletive] ain’t got [expletive]!”

    Days after the cited Facebook posts, the Board of Trustees of the Waller Independent School District proposed termination of Ethredge’s employment.

    Ethredge seeks punitive damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. ]]

    Origin: http://www.upi.com/blog/2013/05/13/Texas-teacher-sues-two-students-for-defamation/3031368455783/

  12. Dr. Sues says:

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

    By Sam Stites, Willamette Week

    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.

    In a similar case, a Washington County pastor sued a former parishioner in June, claiming an online review of his church was defamatory. The defendant’s attorney, Linda Williams—who is also representing Bailey, the dental patient—employed an Oregon anti-SLAPP statute passed in 2001 aimed at frivolous SLAPP lawsuits. The judge ruled in favor of the Washington County defendant and said that the statements were made “in a public forum and concern an issue of public interest,” according to KATU.

    Earlier this month 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 WW via email. “Nor can they prove $300,000 in damages for a post that was up for three weeks.”

    A judge will hear the anti-SLAPP motion on Sept. 5.


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