Are copyright contracts, which confer online review rights to doctors, legal? Many have tried, but it looks like those contracts aren’t holding up well in court, and doing even worse in the court of public opinion.
Take, for example, a recent story featured on Ars Technica. (Medical professionals, pay heed: in the end, the patient prevailed. Take it as a warning to be wary of boiler plate online confidentiality agreements; they can get you into more trouble than they’re worth. And if you want to sue a patient for online defamation, be sure to find an attorney that understands both cyber libel and medical practice statutes.)
The Dentist & The Patient: A Tale of Trying to Prevent Negative Online Doctor Reviews
In 2010, a man was experiencing escalating levels of dental discomfort. So, like any good HMO recipient, off to his insurance provider’s list he went.
“Here: Sign This Copyr….I mean Confidentiality Agreement.”
But before Dentist and Patient got down to the business of teeth debugging, Doctor asked Patient to sign the “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy.” Brass tax, the copyright contract was an attempt to control post-visit online commentary of his experience.
The agreement — brain child of a company called Medical Justice — covered both online and print publications. An arguably ingenious idea, the contract supposedly rendered all comments about her services the copyright of the dentist.
Apparently This Don’t Go Perfectly
Now, if patient and dentist (in this instance) saw eye to eye, you wouldn’t be reading this. So, what happened? Long story short, Patient ended up giving Dentist a 1-star rating on Yelp. A barrage of unflattering remarks followed suit.
And sure enough, believing the Medical Justice contract was legally sound, Dentist Office contacted Yelp, explained that it “owned” the copyright to Patient’s commentary and asked that it be pulled from the website. Also per the contract, Dentist began billing Patient $100 a day for copyright infringement.
Copyright Contracts Class Action?
Unwilling to comply with Dentist’s demands, Patient hired a lawyer. A class action request quickly followed. The goal? Nullify doctor copyright contracts. The argument? Such agreements violate business laws and professional dental ethics.
A Patient Victory
Before long, the dominoes started to fall. Medical Justice washed their hands of the situation and discontinued the issuance of the copyright contract. Dentist boarded her office windows and allegedly couldn’t be reached for comment.
Patient is seeking financial reimbursement for medical and legal fees. But ultimately, Patient hopes that the public, as well as private companies, take notice of these doctor copyrighting contracts and debate their validity.
Contact An Attorney Who Has Successfully Handled Online Review Cases
Are you involved in a medical defamation situation? Do you have questions about copyright contracts? Kelly Warner is an experienced legal team that has successfully dealt with a multitude of online review cases. Contact us today to begin the conversation.
A Texas brain surgeon may finally be granted the defamation trial he has been pursuing for nearly a decade. If he wins, media conglomerate, Viacom, could end up coughing up a whole lot of dough in this doctor defamation lawsuit.
Doctor Sues TV Station For Defamation
In 2004, Byron Neely’s life seemed to be going well. A brain surgeon with a thriving practice, ostensibly, Neely’s situation could be characterized as impressive. That all changed, however, when CBS affiliate KEYE-TV ran a 7-minute investigative report about the good doctor.
Accusations Levied In The KEYE-TV Report That Prompted The Doctor Defamation Lawsuit
In the piece, reporter Nanci Wilson highlighted Paul Jetton’s and Wei Wu’s patient experiences with Neely. According to the report, after Jetton went under Neely’s knife, Jetton allegedly had to undergo 12 corrective surgeries as a result of Neely’s work. More tragically, Wei Wu, another patient, was told by Neely that he had life threatening cancer. Presumably to escape a painful, slow death, Wu committed suicide. The medical examiner who performed Wu’s autopsy, however, said Mr. Wu was cancer free. Wei Wu’s wife brought a malpractice lawsuit against Neely on behalf of her son, but it was thrown out over procedural errors.
In addition to the patients unsettling stories, Wilson’s investigative report touched on probation restrictions the Texas Medical Board imposed on Neely. Namely, the board cited the doctor for self-prescribing medication. Talk also swirled about Neely’s alleged “hand tremor” problem.
TV Shaming Leads To Decline of Medical Practice
A damning excoriation indeed, after the KEYE-TV piece aired, Neely’s practice went into a tailspin. Clients cancelled, the practice crumbled, and eventually the bank foreclosed on Neely’s home. Presumably in an attempt to salvage his career and life, Neely filed a defamation lawsuit against Viacom – the parent company of KEYE-TV — and Nanci Wilson, the reporter.
Trial & Appellate Courts Rule Against Doctor, Supreme Court Gives Him The Green Light
Unfortunately for Neely and fortunately for Viacom, the trial court and appellate court ruled in favor of the defendants. Earlier this month, however, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the decisions in a 5-3-1 vote. Justice Eva Guzman, writing for the majority, explained, “We agree with Neely that a person of ordinary intelligence could conclude the gist of the broadcast was that Neely was disciplined for operating on patients while using dangerous drugs or controlled substances.” Since Neely provided an affidavit that he had “never performed surgeries while impaired by drugs,” the majority of the bench ruled “that there is a fact issue regarding the truth or falsity of the gist that Neely was disciplined for operating on patients while taking or using dangerous drugs or controlled substances.” As such, Neely was essentially given the green light for a trial.
However, not all the justices agreed with the majority decision.
Chiming in for the 3 dissenting justices, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson wrote, “If the news report is damning, it is because it contains substantial truth. The doctor performed brain surgeries during a time he was ingesting seven narcotics, eight other medications and alcohol. He suffered hand tremors during the period he operated on patients’ brains.” In other words, since supreme courts deal with questions of fact, the three dissenting judges did not see grounds for substantial misrepresentation of the case facts. Or as Chief Justice Jefferson explained, “Here, the literal truth is as caustic as the gist, and the gist reasonably depicts literal truth.”
The online defamation saga of Dennis Laurion is done. After years of litigation, Minnesota’s Supreme Court ruled it is legal to cyber-share one’s negative opinions about a doctor. A case that tested Internet free speech limits, McKee v. Laurion is a textbook online defamation of character case study.
McKee v. Laurion: Online Defamation of Character Lawsuit
The McKee v. Laurion cyber libel war began in 2010. Laurion’s father was a patient at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, MN. McKee was the attending physician. Suffice it to say, the two men did not get along.
Laurion contended McKee was rude to his father and made inappropriate quips about dying. The patient’s son also said one of the nurses called McKee a “real tool.”
Dennis Laurion won the first round of the online defamation legal war, but an appeals court ruled in favor of Dr. McKee. The State Supreme Court, however, put the matter to rest by reversing the appeals court decision, siding with the defendant.
Why The Supreme Court Ruled In Favor Of The Defendant, Laurion, In This Defamation of Character Case
In the majority opinion, Justice Alan Page explained that Laurion was operating well within his First Amendment rights. Page also addressed if calling someone a tool could be defamatory; he ruled that the commonplace colloquialism, though disparaging, is pure opinion since there is no way to measure “tool-ness.”
Opinion is Not Defamation of Character
Hop on any Internet forum and you come across a know-it-all who cries slander anytime someone shares a dissenting opinion. They’re wrong. First of all, slander is spoken defamation; so by definition, a comment typed on a webpage cannot be slander. Libel, yes; slander, no. Secondly, in the United States, opinion is not defamatory. 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. In order for an online comment to be defamatory, at the minimum it must:
- Cause harm to the subject of the statement – usually a person or a business
- Be provably false
In addition, depending on whether or not the plaintiff is a public figure or a private citizen, in order to win a defamation lawsuit, the claimant must successfully argue either actual malice or negligence.
The Preface ‘In My Opinion’ Won’t Necessarily Save You From A Defamation Loss, Though
Many people think couching every statement in qualifiers eliminates the possibility of losing a defamation suit (i.e., In my humble opinion, John Doe stole money from the school district). Those people are wrong. A false statement of fact is a false statement of fact, even if you attach a qualifier. You can be forced into bankruptcy, brought on by lawsuit damages, over a blog post that crosses the line – even in the free speech-loving United States.
State Slander & Libel Laws Differ
While federal defamation statutes take precedence, each state has their own set of defamation rules and regulations. Some states acknowledge defamation per se, while others do not. In some jurisdictions, the defamation statute of limitations is 1 year, and in others it’s 3. If you are a journalist or blogger, review the defamation laws in your state. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you’re a blogger or online business person in need of a defamation attorney, get in touch today. Kelly / Warner is a top-rated online defamation law firm with considerable experience in the field. We’ll guide you right.
Have you ever played one of those dinner party games where everyone has to answer an impossible question? It’s usually something like, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one person and one book, who and what would they be?” Well, every so often a defamation lawsuit comes along of the same variety. A new doctor defamation lawsuit out of Oklahoma is one such case. On a social level, it’s difficult to label either the plaintiff or defendant as “the good guy.”
The Incident: A Union Worker, A Checkup & A Gun-Toting Doc
The defamation case started in 2010 when Mark Warren, a member of the Transport Union of America Local 514 and employee of American Airlines, was injured on the job. He was referred to Dr. Kovacs, one of the approved physicians under his union’s health insurance plan.
This is when things got interesting.
According to the doctor, Warren was unruly at his office, yelling about processing forms and refusing to calm down. As fate would have it, Dr. Kovacs is not only a medical professional, but he’s also a reserve police officer. So, when his new patient wouldn’t chill, Kovacs left the room and came back “with his badge on his belt and his duty weapon on his hip, locked in its holster.”
Warren, apparently, took the fire arm display as “a threat and an assault” and as such became very fearful. Undoubtedly, some sort of verbal conflict ensued and Warren eventually left the office. After the incident, American Airlines removed Dr. Kovacs from their list of authorized providers. The slight prompted him to file a defamation lawsuit, against both Mr. Warren and his union, for allegedly misrepresenting the situation, which damaged his practice.
What The Jury Decided In This Doctor Defamation Lawsuit
So, let’s review. An injured worker visits a new doctor for the first time, becomes frustrated by, what one can only assume, was a mountain of bureaucratic (but necessary) paperwork, and the attending physician pulls out a gun to calm him down. Like I said, there’s no clear winner here on the “golden rule” scale.
But the jury sided with the doctor and awarded him more than $442,000 in damages. Transport Workers Union of America Local 514 has to pay Kovacs $221,351 and Warren was ordered to pay the same. Apparently, the jury must have felt that the accusations of Warren and his union directly harmed Kovac’s business, because in U.S. defamation cases, in order for a plaintiff to win a lawsuit, they must prove that the statements in question were false and irreparably harmed an individual or company.
I must admit: I wonder if this case would have concluded differently in other states. To be honest, I can’t see this verdict coming out of a jury in one of the bigger coastal cities. But that’s what state rights are all about.
If you’ve been defamed and you’re looking for a defamation lawyer, get in touch. We’re an AV-rated law firm that caters to small- to medium-sized businesses in addition to individual cases. We look forward to speaking with you soon.
Looks like Dennis Laurion is heading back to court. The Minnesota resident, who has been entangled in an online defamation lawsuit for nearly two years, was reportedly “dismayed” to learn on Monday that the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the decision of District Court Judge Erick Hylden.
In April of 2011, Hylden ruled that 11 statements purportedly made by Laurion did not constitute online defamation. But this week, the appeals court essentially said, “Nope, this case should be heard by a jury.”
Dr. David McKee – of Northland Neurology and Myology – first filed suit in June of 2010, accusing Laurion of online defamation after McKee provided medical attention to Laurion’s father in the hospital after a stroke. Dennis was not pleased with McKee’s demeanor or professionalism and took to a couple of doctor-review-sites to air his grievances.
Laurion contends every statement he made online was truthful and denies posting his diatribes “all over the Net.” Instead, he insists that he only made a couple of online statements, which he eventually deleted, and filed a couple of complaints. That’s it.
Nevertheless, McKee is asking for around $50,000 in defamation damages.
When asked how he felt about the appellate court’s decision, McKee said it was “good news and I’m glad that it turned out that way.”
Laurion’s lawyer explained that while they would have loved to see decision stand, the appellate court decided that there were, indeed, triable issues, and his team would simply have to go back to court.
The Laurion online defamation trial will focus on 6 statements allegedly typed by Dennis on the Internet.
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