Sunday, August 17, 2014

From the defamation archives: Dentist claims he lost $300,000 due to an online review that was up for three weeks

Our health is at risk when doctors and dentists can silence patients who have been harmed. All a doctor has to do to silence criticism is to threaten expensive litigation even when the patient would win in court if he had the resources to go to trial. How many patients have the resources to pay for years of litigation?

A Portland dentist is suing a former patient for what the dentist claims are defamatory reviews in online forums
By Sam Stites
Willamette Week
September 3, 2012

Dr. Mo Saleh, of Dental Dynamics, originally filed suit against Spencer Bailey in Multnomah Circuit Court on June 26 seeking $300,000 after Bailey wrote about Saleh’s dental skills on Yelp, and Google. In his lawsuit, Saleh says Bailey posts caused damage to his reputation, loss of profits and emotional distress.

The reviews cited in the complaint include statements saying Bailey implied ”improper and insufficient dental services by Dr. Saleh.” The complaint further alleges that Bailey wrote, “if Dr. Saleh tells you that you have a cavity — GET A SECOND OPINION.”

According to the complaint. Bailey said he had never had a cavity in 32 years until Saleh found several. Bailey’s lawyers have responded by stating that Bailey went to Saleh for dental work and then went to another dentist after experiencing pain. They claim that the other dentist advised Bailey that some of the fillings were unnecessary and some were poorly put in.

Bailey’s attorneys, Jeremiah Ross and Linda Williams, also claimed that Saleh contacted Bailey after he reviewed the dentist on various web sites, threatening him to remove them. They say Bailey removed the postings out of concern for his and his family’s safety. Even though Bailey removed the postings, Saleh is proceeding with his suit. (Saleh’s lawyer declined to comment.)

As online commentary about all manner of topics has exploded, so too has the number of lawsuits unhappy targets have filed about such commentary. Saleh’s suit falls under what lawyers call a practice of Strategic Law Against Public Participation or SLAPP. SLAPP cases take aim at people making statements or publishing information that could be damaging to the plaintiff. Critics say these suits are sometimes little more than attempt to censor, silence and in intimidate the defendant.

In a similar case, a Washington County pastor sued a former parishioner in June, claiming an online review of his church was defamatory. The defendant’s attorney, Linda Williams—who is also representing Bailey, the dental patient—employed an Oregon anti-SLAPP statute passed in 2001 aimed at frivolous SLAPP lawsuits. The judge ruled in favor of the Washington County defendant and said that the statements were made “in a public forum and concern an issue of public interest,” according to KATU.

Earlier this month Bailey’s attorneys filed a motion to strike Saleh’s lawsuit under the anti-SLAPP statute, declaring that Bailey’s online reviews are free speech in a public forum. "Spencer's review was a protected opinion and the Plaintiff cannot prove their allegations," Ross, Bailey’s co-counsel tells WW via email. "Nor can they prove $300,000 in damages for a post that was up for three weeks."

A judge will hear the anti-SLAPP motion on Sept. 5.

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