Posting Derogatory Comments Online Against Doctors Invites Litigation
Retired Air Force Colonel David Antoon has just agreed to a $100 settlement for potential felony charges filed against him concerning emails Antoon sent to his former Cleveland Clinic urologist, Jihad Kaouk, containing articles the physician found threatening. Antoon had also been accused of posting an online list on Yelp of all the surgeries the urologist had scheduled during the same period in which the Colonel was left incontinent and impotent. The incidents took place a decade ago and his reaction ultimately caused Antoon to face a potential one-year prison.
Antoon’s plea deal was struck at the same time the medical community across the nation has begun to actively combat derogatory social media and other online posts. Some of the most recent cases include:
– Cleveland physician Bahman Guyuron’s decision to file suit against a former patient for posting negative reviews about the doctor on Yelp and other sites. The posts, which Guyuron claimed amounted to defamation concerned a nose job the patient received. The plaintiff’s attorney Steve Friedman said he and his client firmly believe in the rights outlining free speech included in the First Amendment. However, “our position is she did far beyond that (and) deliberately made false factual statements.” A settlement mediation is scheduled for early August and will be proceeded with a trial later that month should an agreement not be reached at that time.
– A Michigan hospital, Kalkaska Memorial Health Center, recently sued an elderly patient’s two daughters and a granddaughter over a status update made on Facebook showing them picketing in front of the hospital regarding the supposed mistreatment of the late Eleanor Pound. The operator of the facility sued for defamation, tortious interference, and invasion of privacy.
– Jazz singer Sherry Petta used her own website and other doctor rating sites to criticize a Scottsdale, Arizona, medical practice over an allegedly botched nasal tip surgery and laser treatment. The physicians who performed the procedures, Albert Carlotti and Michelle Cabret-Carlotti, successfully sued for defamation, winning a $12 million jury award that was vacated on appeal. The parties jointly asked for the decision to be dismissed in 2016, but the litigation evidently forced Petta to sell a house and file for bankruptcy. Petta’s attorney, Ryan Lorenz, said, “Make sure what you are saying is true – it has to be truthful.”
“It would be great if the regulators of hospitals and doctors were more diligent about responding to harm to patients, but they’re not, so people have turned to other people,” says Lisa McGiffert, former head of Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project. “This is what happens when your system of oversight is failing patients.”
Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University’s law school added of the choice to litigate, “you can win (a case) and still not win.” He said doctors rarely win and sometimes must pay the patients’ legal fees. The circumstances are muddied by doctor-patient confidentially statements signed when the patient initially seeks care.
Nevertheless, the lesson to be learned here is to exercise caution when choosing to say anything derogatory about another party online. Anytime something negative is posted for public review, a can of worms is opened inviting litigation. Poster beware.