The WWII Vet vs. The Doctor: A Case of Internet Defamation Law

internet defamation law doctor caseLately, Internet defamation law is the talk of the legal town. Former Major Leaguer, Roger Clemens, is embroiled in an upcoming defamation lawsuit; online travel heavyweight, TripAdvisor.com, is staring down the barrel of a hotel vendor group action. And in Duluth, Minnesota, a doctor is suing his patient’s son for — yep, you guessed it — online defamation.

Background Of The McKee Laurion Internet Defamation Law Case

In April of 2010, Dr. David McKee treated World War II Veteran, Kenneth Laurion, for a hemorrhagic stroke. Unfortunately, the Laurion’s didn’t like Dr. McKee; they found his bedside manner to be “unacceptable and beyond reproach.” The good doc, they claimed, lacked common sensitivity, in both actions and comments, towards patient Kenneth and the Laurion Clan. To express his personal grievances, Dennis Laurion, Kenneth’s son, took to the Internet and commented on his displeasure with Dr. McKee.

In June, Dr. McKee filed a defamation lawsuit against Dennis. McKee’s attorney, Marshall Tanick, called Laurion’s alleged defamatory remarks “weapons of mass destruction” (oh yes, he went there). Tanick also argued:

“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.”

Internet Defamation Lawsuit Hearings

On February 8th, Dennis Laurion found himself in the Sixth Judicial District Court. He testified that he’d heard Dr. McKee quip, “I had to find out whether you had been transferred or died.”

In a deposition, McKee acknowledged he’d made the statement, but insists it was in good humor and intended to alleviate tension.

Dr. McKee is seeking excess of $50,000. The Laurions and their lawyer, John Kelly, claim statements made about the doctor were true, thereby rendering Dennis Laurion immune from liability. In the eyes of lawyer Kelly, Laurion’s comments were “pure opinions” that can’t be proven true or false.

Eric Hylden, the presiding judge, labeled the case “very interesting.” Hylden implied that, constitutionally, Dennis certainly has a right to an opinion, but then went on to question whether or not there is some limitation to what citizens can say in an online public forum.

The Future of Internet Defamation Law

Hylden has 90 days to mull the issue before his summary judgment ruling is due. Between you, me and the lamppost, it certainly does seem like someone’s itching to make some Internet defamation law history.

For First Amendment warriors, the Internet defamation case of Dr. McKee vs. Dennis Laurion is one to follow.