Consumer Reviews Under Attack in Orlando Lawsuit

Online rating sites can be a great tool for consumers to research the experiences that others have had with a business’ services or products; but for small business owners, customer review sites can have a major impact on their business, both positive and negative.  If you think that online reviews don’t make a difference, think again. 

According to the results of a recent Neilson survey on Global Trust in Advertising, online reviews and personal recommendations are the most trusted form of “advertising”.   Personal recommendations from someone you know (90%), consumer opinions online (70%), branded websites (58%) and emails that you have signed up for (50%).

On the other hand review sites also bring risks, for not only the business owner and the site for which they are listed (although the Communications Decency Act of 1996 should protect most sites), but also for the author of the comments.

In a recent law suit, an Orlando plastic surgeon is suing one of his former patients for defaming him online.  According to the suit, thedisgruntled patient posted not-so-flattering comments on the medical site RateMDs.com.

A lot of people assume posting online is protected under the first amendment right of freedom of speech—but that is not always the case.

Poster, beware: you can’t say just anything you want on social networking and review sites. 

Your opinion is fine, but post an out and out lie, even on a review site, and it could cross the line into libel and slander or in this case defamation of character. 

According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, “The defendant in this case has a vendetta, and my client has to use the court system to remedy that.”

The surgeon believes that the patient has posed as other patients and posted multiple comments on the site. He’s seeking $49,000 in damages and wants the posts removed.

The unnamed patient’s lawyer says if this lawsuit is successful, it’ll put a freeze on the usefulness of such rating sites like RateMDs.com, Yelp, Angie’s List and others that review services.

And so the centuries old debate over freedom of speech rages on and the Internet, Social networking sites and review sites only add fuel to the fire.

The best advice for those who would like to post a review about a business is to be honest, fair, and state that it is YOUR opinion or YOUR experience.  Be specific and factual and do not post under a fictitious name or multiple posts.  If you have a problem with a business’ services or products, writing about them on review sites is a great tool, however also consider reaching out to the business and providing them with an opportunity to correct the situation.

Regardless of the outcome of this suit, it will put reviewers, businesses and review sites on alert and certainly will result in changes.

Do you think the suit has merit?

 

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Comments

  1. Nicholas Judd

    Yes I do, if the customer is presenting his or her business experience with the doctor in a bias and unfair light then she is skewing future perception of him and his medical practice which could result in an irreconcilable loss of revenue. Due to the fact that the customer assumed false identities and then posted more bias and skewed reviews on the doctor under these assumed identities she is creating a false atmosphere of distrust and unprofessionalism around the doctor which will hut not only his business but also his public image, social standing and reputation as a whole. Just because the disgruntled patient had a bad experience does not give him or her the right to defame and befoul this doctor’s reputation by stating her experience as fact and creating once again a false atmosphere of agreement with her statements and experiences. This establishes a false pattern of negligence which may or may not be deserved.

    • carolee.collins

      Thanks Nick – good arguments, but why did you assume it was a “she” … :)

  2. Content Scraper

    Minnesota Doctor Sues For Defamation Over Online Rating

    Duluth News Tribune, Published February 10, 2011

    A Duluth physician who sued a patient’s son for defamation was in court Thursday as the son attempted to have the case thrown out. Dr. David McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, filed the lawsuit against Dennis Laurion of Duluth in St. Louis County District Court in June. McKee alleges that Laurion defamed him and interfered with his business by criticizing him by making false statements on websites and to various third parties including other physicians in Duluth, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee, St. Luke’s hospital and professional organizations.

    Laurion’s father, Kenneth, now 85 and a Navy combat medic in the Solomon Islands during World War II, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and was treated by McKee at St. Luke’s hospital April 19. He recovered from his condition. However, he and his family allege that McKee was rude and insensitive to the patient in his actions and comments.

    The defendants claim that when McKee didn’t find Kenneth Laurion in the Intensive Care Unit, he said: “I had to find out whether you had transferred or died.” McKee confirmed in deposition that he made the statement, but claimed it was a jocular comment meant to relieve tension.

    Kenneth Laurion, his defendant son and daughter-in-law were in the courtroom Thursday, as was plaintiff McKee. McKee is asking for more than $50,000 in damages. Laurion claims that any statements he made about the doctor were true and that he is immune from any liability.

    Duluth defense attorney John Kelly argued that his client’s statements were substantially true, were statements of opinion and couldn’t be demonstrated to be false. “He is standing up and speaking out for his father. That is his motivation … in the hope that something gets done,” Kelly told the court.

    McKee is represented by Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick. Tanick told the court that Laurion used the websites as a “weapon of mass destruction” to injure the reputation of McKee, place the doctor in a negative light and impugn his professional practice.

    In a written motion, Tanick wrote, “The totality of statements made on these websites would be injurious to the reputation and standing of a doctor in the eyes of others who might see it, including patients or prospective patients, colleagues, peers, referral sources, and others.”

    Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden is presiding over the case. As the parties introduced themselves to the court, Hylden told them it was a “very interesting type of case.”

    Thinking out loud, Hylden suggested that Laurion has a constitutionally protected right to an opinion, but “isn’t there some limitation on what a person can say in that public forum?”

    Kelly said his client made his statements of opinion in good faith and they were not demonstratively false. “There has to be a protected area in which someone like Dennis Laurion can come forward, stand up and speak for his father and say, ‘Look, in this particular instance, my father didn’t get treated very well and you ought to know that.’ ”

    Tanick argued that Laurion’s criticism goes much farther than that. “He chose to tell the world at large in a way that was injurious to Dr. McKee’s reputation,” Tanick said.

    Earlier Duluth News Tribune Article:

    A Duluth physician is suing the son of a former patient for publicly criticizing his bedside manner. Dr. David McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, filed the lawsuit, which was made public Friday, in St. Louis County District Court. McKee alleges that Dennis Laurion of Duluth defamed him and interfered with his business by making false statements to various third parties, including the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, two physicians in Duluth, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee and St. Luke hospital, among others.

    Laurion claims that any statements he made about the doctor were true and that he is immune from any liability to the plaintiff. He referred questions to his Duluth attorney, John Kelly.

    McKee is asking for more than $50,000 in damages. The doctor was paged Friday but did not return a call seeking comment. He is being represented by Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick, who in a phone interview alleged that Laurion defamed his client in several ways, including posting negative reviews of McKee on various websites. The basis for the lawsuit is the defamatory statements that were made on websites and to other sources, Tanick said. However, by no means does Dr. McKee want to in any way prevent or affect any kind of communications that may be made to the Board of Medical Practice or any other regulatory agencies. The purpose of the lawsuit is to prevent defamation being made on the websites and through other sources.

    Kenneth Laurion, 85, a Navy combat medic in the Solomon Islands during World War II, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and spent four days at St. Luke hospital from April 17-21. He recovered from his condition.

    McKee also alleges that the defendant made false statements about him to others including:

    McKee seemed upset’ that Kenneth Laurion had been transferred from the Intensive Care Unit to a ward room.

    McKee told the Laurions that he had to spend time finding out if [the patient] had been transferred or died.

    McKee told the Laurions that 44 percent of hemorrhagic stroke victims die within 30 days. McKee told the patient that he did nott need therapy.

    McKee said that it didn’t matter that the patient gown was hanging from his neck with his backside exposed.

    McKee blamed the patient for the loss of his time. McKee didn’t treat his patient with dignity.

    Defense attorney Kelly said it was a tense and emotional situation for the Laurion family. They were worried about Dad and the doctor comes along and, from their point of view, of what they saw and what they heard, they felt that the doctor didn’t act appropriately toward the father, Kelly said. So, among other things, they saw fit to report it to the hospital and to the Board of Medical Practice, which they have every right to do under the patient Bill of Rights, and they get sued.

    Kelly said his client did post ratings of McKee on some websites but said he asked to have them removed, and they were. The defense attorney thinks that the lawsuit is without merit. I think it is an unfortunate incident of someone attempting to punish a person who has spoken out of concern for a family member, Kelly said.

    According to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice website, McKee has had no disciplinary action brought against him.

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