There must be something in the air, because lately, Internet defamation law is the talk of the legal town — online and off. Former Major League superstar, Roger Clemens, is embroiled in an upcoming defamation lawsuit, while 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 — spreading lies online.
Background Of The McKee Laurion Internet Defamation Lawsuit
In April of last year, World War II Veteran, Kenneth Laurion, was treated for a hemorrhagic stroke by Dr. David McKee, a neurologist, at St. Luke’s Hospital. During Mr. Laurion’s time in the hospital, his family alleged that Dr. McKee’s behavior was unacceptable and beyond reproach. The good doc, they claimed, lacked common sensitivity, in both actions and comments, towards patient Kenneth and the rest of the Laurion clan. To air 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 that “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.”
The Internet Defamation Lawsuit Hearings
On February 8th, accompanied by his wife and father, Dennis Laurion found himself in the Sixth Judicial District Court. He explained how when he went to the intensive care unit to check on his father, he overheard Dr. McKee quip, “I had to find out whether you had been transferred or died.”
In a deposition, McKee acknowledged he had 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 any statements made about the doctor were true, thereby rendering Dennis Laurion immune from any liability. In the eyes of Kelly, Laurion’s comments were opinions that cannot be demonstrated to be false in court.
Eric Hylden, the presiding judge, labeled the case as “very interesting.” Later, 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 Internet Defamation Lawsuit Future
Hylden has 90 days to mull over 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.