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HealthTap Acquires Health Network and Doctor Reviews Aggregator Avvo

Finally, a four-year legal battle over an online review has come to an end.

The doctor review posted in early 2010 by Dennis Laurion – the one saying neurologist David McKee “is a real tool” – is not defamatory.

This is the unanimous decision reached recently by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled that “referring to someone as a ‘real tool’ falls into the category of pure opinion because the term…cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact, and it cannot be proven true or false.”

Here’s how the story began. Following the hospitalization of his father in 2010, Laurion posted a scathing review of McKee on at least a couple of popular doctor review aggregators. The review – which described McKee’s allegedly rude manner – then went viral, reaching other social media and online review sites and negatively affecting the doctor’s reputation.

So McKee sued. He filed a defamation lawsuit, the cost of which has piled up to reach over $50,000 in legal fees, plus another $11,000 on efforts to clear his name.

(Check out: “No Need to Edit or Delete Bad Yelp Review, Says Virginia Supreme Court to Sued Yelper”)

Jane Kirtley, a media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, agreed with the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling. “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 legal battle brings to light the power of online review sites like Yelp, Google+ Local, Wellness.com, Dr. Oogle, Vitals, and HealthTap (among many others) to affect the reputation of medical and health professionals. It also emphasizes the importance of monitoring and responding to these reviews.

Is someone writing bad reviews of your business or practice? Avoid the stress, trouble, and cost that McKee experienced. Here are some great tips for you:

Don’t sue, just respond. There have been many cases now in which the boundaries separating the First Amendment (protecting freedom of speech) from online reputation have been tested. But don’t make negative reviews bigger than they really are. (Besides, do you really want to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees?) The best, most effective way of dealing with these reviews is to respond to them – promptly, professionally, and politely.

(Check out: “9 Effective Tips for Responding to Online Critics”)

Know where they’re talking – then plant your flag. There are dozens of review sites where your patients, customers, and clients may be talking about you. Identify these sites and, if you haven’t done so, claim your business listings. (Check out our How-To guides for that.) By planting your flag, you gain more control over what’s being said about you, and you’ll be able to manage your online reputation much more effectively.

Monitor online reviews closely and regularly. Regardless of whether you’re a doctor, car wash shop owner, restaurateur, or hotelier, people will be talking about you and your business. They will have an opinion. They’ll likely write out and share this opinion. That’s why it’s so critical for you to have the tools and resources to monitor online reviews. Otherwise, you’ll never find out what’s being said about you – until the fire has spread too wide and has become too big for you to put out (just like what happened with McKee).

Train your staff to be brilliant. There’s no better way of stopping negative reviews than to give your patients and clients a great customer experience. This experience starts with your employees and staff members. If your people represent you well with impressive service, you’ll more consistently garner five-star ratings and glowing reviews.

Kevin Kent

Kevin is the Director of Finance and Operations at ReviewTrackers. Every day he finds creative ways to solve business owners' problems and identifies key issues to help them achieve top results.

Discussion

  1. Dennis

    It was not my intention to use “scathing” descriptions or any descriptions or conclusions – like “rude.” It was also not my intention to claim that I had proof. Only my family and the doctor were in the room. My intention was to portray my recollection of what happened in my father’s room. The public could decide what to believe and what – if any – impact it had on them: insensitive doctor or overly-sensitive consumer?

    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.

    Reply
    • Chris @ Review Trackers

      Dennis- thanks for giving us an update with additional facts on this case.

      Reply
  2. Liber Pater

    Minnesota defamation case, David McKee MD v Dennis 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.

    In deciding an Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina at Wilmington, MYGALLONS LLC and ZENACON LLC STEVEN VERONA v. U. S. BANCORP, VOYAGEUR FLEET SYSTEMS INC, And K. E. AUSTIN CORP (12-1287); The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit cited David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion.

    From pages 13-14 of http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Unpublished/121287.U.pdf:

    The parties agree that the defamation claim is governed by Minnesota law because the alleged defamation originated in Minnesota. They also agree that under Minnesota law, the elements of a defamation claim are: “(1) the defamatory statement was communicated to someone other than the plaintiff; (2) the statement is false; (3) the statement tends to harm the plaintiff’s reputation and to lower [the plaintiff] in the estimation of the community; and (4) the recipient of the false statement reasonably understands it to refer to a specific individual.” McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 725, 729-30 (Minn. 2013) . A defamation claim cannot be based on a true statement. Id. at 730. “True statements” include statements that are “true in substance” and contain only “minor inaccuracies of expression or detail.” Id. 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.” Id.

    Reply
  3. Content Scraper

    Review Trackers quote: “The review – which described McKee’s allegedly rude manner – then went viral, reaching other social media and online review sites and negatively affecting the doctor’s reputation.”

    The reviews didn’t go viral. They were deleted before the suit commenced. The repetition of the reviews in the doctor’s complaint went public. The resulting blog posts went viral. Newspaper reports went viral. The Supreme Court review went viral. Anybody who has read the review has read the doctor’s repetition, a newspaper’s repetition, a blog’s repetition, a state court’s repetition, an appellate court’s repetition, or a supreme court’s repetition .

    Since May of 2010, postings on the Internet by others include newspaper accounts of the lawsuit; readers’ remarks about the newspaper accounts; and blog opinion pieces written by doctors, lawyers, public relations professionals, patient advocates, and information technology experts. Dozens of websites by doctors, lawyers, patient advocates, medical students, law schools, consumer advocates, and free speech monitors posted opinions that a doctor or plumber shouldn’t sue the family of a customer for a bad rating. These authors never said they saw the deleted ratings – only the news coverage.

    Marshall Tanick told the Star Tribune that 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.

    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.”

    The Mankato Free Press said in February 2013: “It’s puzzling why McKee’s defamation lawsuit — filed nearly four years ago — was still in court. It’s long been established that people may spout any opinion they want without fear of being sued . . . It’s unsettling that the Appeals Court earlier ruled to allow the suit to continue.”

    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.”

    Dan Hinmon, the principal of Hive Strategies, wrote for Health Care Communication, on March 21, 2013, “According to the Star Tribune, McKee is now ticked off at the people who posted hundreds more negative comments about him after the story went viral. Incredulously, the story reports that McKee ‘hasn’t ruled out a second lawsuit stemming from these posts.’ Yes, you read that right. After spending ‘at least $50,000 in legal fees and another $11,000 to clear his name online after the story went viral,’ McKee is considering suing the rest of the people who, exercising their right of protected speech, chimed in. I’m speechless.”

    Reply
  4. Liber Pater

    David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion was cited by United States District Court, District of Minnesota in Civil No. 11-812 (JNE/JJG), Karen Eckstrom, Plaintiff, v. Bio-Medical Applications of Minnesota, Inc. (BMA); an affiliate of Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc.; a/k/a Fresenius Medical Care, all foreign corporations doing business in Minnesota; Patrick Howard and John Marietti.

    “To establish the elements of a defamation claim in Minnesota, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) the defamatory statement was ‘communicated to someone other than the plaintiff’; (2) the statement is false; (3) the statement tends to ‘harm the plaintiff’s reputation and to lower [the plaintiff] in the estimation of the community”; and (4) ‘the recipient of the false statement reasonably understands it to refer to a specific individual.’” McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 725, 729-30 (Minn. 2013).

    “The plaintiff has the burden of proving falsity in order to establish a successful defamation claim.” McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 730 (Minn. 2013).

    “Truth is a complete defense to a defamation action and ‘true statements, however disparaging, are not actionable.’” McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 730 (Minn. 2013).

    Generally the truth or falsity of a statement is a question for the jury, but “[i]f the statement is true in substance, minor inaccuracies of expression or detail are immaterial.” McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 730 (Minn. 2013).

    “Minor inaccuracies to not amount to falsity so long as ‘the substance, the gist, the sting, of the libelous charge [is] justified.’” McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 730 (Minn. 2013).

    Page 27 of http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/minnesota/mndce/0:2011cv00812/119408/34/0.pdf?1374061296

    Reply
  5. Herb Rice

    This is extracted from:

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

    Reply
  6. Dennis

    In spite of Supreme Court disagreement and subsequent peer disagreement, Marshall Tanick is STILL saying “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.

    Reply
  7. McKee V. Laurion

    Commenting about David McKee MD Versus Dennis Laurion 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.”

    The Mankato Free Press said in February 2013: “It’s puzzling why Dr. David McKee’s defamation lawsuit — filed nearly four years ago — was still in court. It’s long been established that people may spout any opinion they want without fear of being sued . . . It’s unsettling that the Appeals Court earlier ruled to allow the suit to continue.”

    Reply
  8. Eggs Bened1ct

    “The Streisand Effect.” refers to the consequence of inviting even more negative attention by trying to remove negative attention. (The) inspiration was Barbra Streisand’s objecting to a photo of her house in California being made part of a series documenting coastal erosion. Her complaints made the image far more pervasive online than it would have been had she simply ignored it.

    David McKee, M.D., a Duluth, Minn., neurologist, was unaware of this 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.

    McKee asked if Kenneth felt like getting out of bed so he could make an assessment on mobility. He did, though his gown was partially undone in the back. 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.”

    The family exited the room while McKee conducted a brief examination. Laurion says he returned to find his father partially conscious. His head, Laurion asserts, was “pushed against the railing” of the hospital bed, appearing to be a victim of postural hypotension that resulted in a brief fainting spell.

    Unaware of any resentment, McKee went to the nurse’s station to dictate notes; an irritated Dennis Laurion consulted with his family to see if his impression of the arrogant doctor was real or imagined. At no point did he approach McKee to clear the air. Instead, 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. McKee claims the writer called him shortly before close of business Friday to solicit a quote; the story ran the following day. “The article was written like I was being reviewed for misconduct,” McKee says. In fact, no action had been taken against him by any of the organizations Laurion had written to.

    Two events further demoralized McKee. In April 2011, the judge granted Laurion’s motion for summary judgment, ruling his comments were protected free speech. Worse, 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.” Their software was apparently unable to determine that a surge of opinion over a matter of hours was highly unusual activity for a physician who normally received perhaps three comments in a year.

    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.

    Law professor Eric Goldman, who says he feels physicians are “thin-skinned” when it comes to patient complaints, is confident that litigation is never the answer. “I imagine many lawyers saying that’s not good idea,” he says. “Good lawyers, anyway. McKee made a bad call. There are no winners in defamation lawsuits, and you should advise clients of that.”

    McKee was rated for several years as a top provider in Duluth Superior Magazine, a well-regarded lifestyle publication that recently folded. But his online reputation will outlive that. “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:
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/jakerossen/insult-and-injury-inside-the-webs-one-sided-war-on-doctors

    Reply
  9. Dennis

    Insult And Injury: How Doctors Are Losing The War Against Trolls

    As one of the “trolls” detailed in the article, I have no issue with the accuracy of the text – at least as it pertains to me – but the tone of the title fails to distinguish sincere complaints about bedside manner from attacks on mental stability, attacks on medical prowess, fake websites, allegations of dangerous injections, and use of multiple identities. The author said “McKee and Laurion agree on substance…”

    While being sued for defamation, I have been called a passive aggressive, an oddball, a liar, a coward, a bully, a malicious person, and a zealot family member. I’ve been said to have run a cottage industry vendetta, posting 108 adverse Internet postings in person or through proxies. That’s not correct. In reality, I posted ratings at three consumer rating sites, deleted them, and never rewrote them again.

    Reply
    • Veritas MD

      Sorry Dennis that just isn’t true. You did post 108 complaints on the same day making it seem as if 108 different patients had problems with doctor McKee. He has an excellent reputation and you are a liar sucking off the welfare system. You, despite our idiot legal system are indeed a slanderer.

      Reply
  10. Uranus

    UW-Whitewater professor sues student over postings

    By Associated Press
    Published: 11:31 EST, 22 May 2014 | Updated: 11:31 EST, 22 May 2014

    WHITEWATER, Wis. (AP) — 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, the Janesville Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1hcjNmn ) Thursday.

    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.

    “I don’t feel I’ve (gone) too far with my videos and comments because everything posted basically communicates exactly how Sally Vogl-Bauer treated me,” Llewellyn said.

    The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and attorney and trial fees. The case is scheduled to go a jury trial in September.

    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.
    ___
    Information from: The Janesville Gazette, http://www.gazetteextra.com

    Reply
  11. Herb Rice

    A Texas teacher got upset about Facebook postings. She’ll probably learn about the Streisand Effect like Dr. David McKee did, and Professor Sally Vogl-Bauer is doing.

    “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. ]]

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

    Reply
  12. Court Watch

    Timothy Edwards comments about Ms. Sally Vogl-Bauer’s intentions to welcome criticism but sue defamation cause me to think defamation plaintiff lawyers must use templates for talking to the press.

    Professor Sally Vogl-Bauer’s lawyer, Timothy [[ Edwards released a statement: “Students have a right to express their opinion, 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.” ]]

    [[ “When you make false statements of fact repeatedly about another person with the intent of harming them, that’s over the line,” said Tim Edwards, attorney for UW-Whitewater communications professor Sally Vogl-Bauer. “If you truthfully say, ‘In my experience, this isn’t a good teacher, I didn’t have a good experience, she was late’ and that’s your opinion,
    that’s fair,” Edwards said. ]]

    A Duluth News Tribune article of June 2010 quoted Marshall Tanick, now employed by Hellmuth Johnson law firm, 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.”

    Duluth News Tribune, November 10, 2011: “The doctor maintains he was vilified unjustly and inaccurately on the Internet and in postings and correspondence to colleagues and peers and thinks that Mr. Laurion falsified statements and incidents that did not occur,” Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick said outside the courtroom after the hearing. “We maintain the case should be submitted to a jury to ensure that Dr. McKee and Mr. Laurion have their day in court so that the jury may determine this important issue.” Tanick told the panel his client is a highly regarded neurologist who has been defamed by Laurion’s comments, which appear pervasively on the Internet and falsely portray McKee as being insensitive and incompetent.

    From Minneapolis Star Tribune March 25, 2012: McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, said the doctor felt he had no choice but to sue to protect his reputation and his medical practice. “It’s like removing graffiti from a wall,” said Tanick. He said Laurion distorted the facts — not only on the Internet, but in more than a dozen complaint letters to various medical groups. “He put words in the doctor’s mouth,” making McKee “sound uncaring, unsympathetic or just stupid.”

    Taken from videotaped comments to Minnesota Supreme Court: “He may have been upset at how Dr. McKee treated his father. Apparently he was, and he’s entitled to say that. He can say that “I’m upset. Doctor McKee did not treat my father well. He was insensitive.” He can make statements like that: “He didn’t spend enough time in my opinion.” He can make
    factual (sic) statements, he can make them on the Internet, he can make them in letters, he can write a letter to the editor, he can stand in front of St. Luke’s Hospital with a placard saying those things if they are opinions . . .”

    From BuzzFeed, 2014: 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.”

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  13. Dr. Sues

    Doctor Sues And Gets A Ham

    [[ He may have been upset at how Dr. McKee treated his father. Apparently he was, and he’s entitled to say that. He can say that “I’m upset. Doctor McKee did not treat my father well. He was insensitive.” He can make statements like that: “He didn’t spend enough time in my opinion.” He can make factual (sic) statements, he can make them on the Internet, he can make them in letters, he can write a letter to the editor, he can stand in front of St.Luke’s Hospital with a placard saying those things if they are opinions . . .” ]]

    He can stand at St. Luke’s with a placard of rebukes.
    He can say it in the dark; he can say it in the park.
    He can write some letters to those he thinks his betters.
    He can say it here or there. “I don’t like him anywhere.”
    He can say it in a house. “I don’t like him with a mouse,
    I don’t like him here or there, I don’t like him anywhere.”

    He can say it in a car. He can say it in a bar.
    “I don’t like him in a box, I don’t like him with a fox,
    I don’t like him in a house, I don’t like him with a mouse,
    I don’t like him here or there, I don’t like him anywhere.”

    He can say it in the dark. He can say it in the park.
    He can say it in on a train. He can say it in the rain
    He can say “I’m upset.” He can say it till he’s wet.
    “I don’t like him in on a train, I don’t like him in the rain,
    I don’t like him in the park, I don’t like him in the dark,
    I don’t like him with a goat, I don’t like him on a boat.”

    He can say it here or there, he can say it anywhere,
    He can speak till numb, even if we say,
    There should be some Hell Toupee.

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  14. Fields of Clover

    Wow, I can’t believe they sued about this for 4 years! It all sounds like “much ado about nothing” – it took whole lot of time, stress, money about nothing in particular.

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