UPDATE: Dennis Laurion wins victory for free speech in Minnesota Supreme Court against doctor who tried to silence him.
Should patients be punished for filing complaints to medical groups?
Doctor's suit tests limits of online criticism
By Maura Lerner
Two years ago, Dennis Laurion logged on to a rate-your-doctor website to vent about a Duluth, Minnesota neurologist, Dr. David McKee.
McKee had examined Laurion's father, Kenneth, when he was hospitalized after a stroke. The family, Laurion wrote, wasn't happy with his bedside manner. "When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, 'Dr. McKee is a real tool!'" he wrote.
McKee wasn't amused. He sued Laurion for defamation, and now the case is pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
McKee, 50, is one of a small number of doctors who have gone to court to fight online critics, in cases that are testing the limits of free speech on the Internet. "Doctors are not used to public criticism," said Eric Goldman, an associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law in California, who tracks such lawsuits. "So it's a new phenomenon for them."
While such cases are rare, Goldman said, they've been popping up around the country as patient review sites such as vitals.com and rateyourdoctor.com have flourished. Defamation suits are "kind of the nuclear option," Goldman said. "It's the thing that you go to when everything else has failed."
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...