Doctor’s defamation lawsuit sent to jury 24 Jan 12

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) – A Minnesota appeals court says a jury should decide whether a Duluth man defamed a local doctor by posting derogatory comments about his bedside manner on rate-your-doctor websites.

The appeals court Monday sent the case back to St. Louis County for trial. A district court judge had earlier ruled Dr. David McKee was not defamed by the criticism and threw out his lawsuit against Dennis Laurion. McKee wants $50,000 in damages from Laurion for posting the statements on the Internet. Judge Eric Hylden said Laurion’s comments were opinions and constituted statements that were too vague to be defamatory.

The Duluth News Tribune says Laurion was critical of the treatment his father, Kenneth, received from McKee after suffering a stroke and spending four days at St. Luke’s hospital last year.

Information from: Duluth News Tribune,

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

  • Dennis

    In response to a newspaper article about David McKee MD V. Dennis Laurion, Dr.
    McKee, founder of Northland Neurology and practitioner at St. Luke’s Hospital
    in Duluth, Minnesota, said that money is money, and he wouldn’t remember the
    impact in five years.

    I wrote my review of Dr. David McKee five years ago. I can’t speak for Dr. McKee, but I still remember the impact.

    This entire experience has been distressing to my family. We were initially shocked
    and blindsided by “jocular” comments made so soon after my father’s stroke by
    somebody who didn’t know us. We were overwhelmed by my being sued after posting a consumer opinion, and we were shocked by the rapidity with which it happened.

    David McKee MD V. Dennis Laurion has been the 800
    pound gorilla in the room. My parents would be 88-year-old witnesses. My mother
    and wife prefer no discussion, because they don’t want to think about it.
    Conversation with my father only reminds him of his anger over this situation.
    My siblings and children don’t often bring it up, because they don’t know how
    to say anything helpful. I have been demoralized by three years of being called
    “Defendant Laurion” in public documents.

    While being sued for defamation, I have been called a passive aggressive, an oddball, a liar, a coward, a bully, a malicious person, and a zealot family member. I’ve been said to have run a cottage industry vendetta, posting 108 adverse Internet
    postings in person or through proxies. That’s not correct. In reality, I posted
    ratings at three consumer rating sites, deleted them, and never rewrote them

    What it’s like for a patient or family member to be caught up in a case like McKee
    V. Laurion was already described by the plaintiff’s lawyer in a Star Tribune
    newspaper article, “Company sues over info put on Yahoo message board,” August
    27, 2001, and repeated in It said in part:

    “IF A COMPANY SUES, alleging simple business disparagement or
    perhaps defamation, ITS GOAL ISN’T NECESSARILY TO WIN,” SAID MARSHALL TANICK, a First Amendment expert at Mansfield & Tanick in Minneapolis. “THE
    STRATEGY IS TO FORCE THE OTHER PERSON TO INCUR HUGE LEGAL EXPENSES THAT WILL DETER THEM AND OTHERS from making such statements,” he said … “yet very few (cases) go all the way to trial and verdict,” Tanick said. [ Emphasis added ]

    The plaintiff’s first contact with me was a letter that said in part that he had
    the means and motivation to pursue me. The financial impact of being sued three
    years to date has been burdensome, a game of financial attrition that I haven’t
    wanted to play. The suit cost me the equivalent of two year’s net income – the
    same as 48 of my car payments plus 48 of my house payments. My family members
    had to dip into retirement funds to help me.

    After receipt of a threat letter, I deleted my rate-your-doctor site postings and
    sent confirmation emails to opposing counsel. Since May of 2010, postings on
    the Internet by others include newspaper accounts of the lawsuit; readers’
    remarks about the newspaper accounts; and blog opinion pieces written by
    doctors, lawyers, public relations professionals, patient advocates, and
    information technology experts. Dozens of websites by doctors, lawyers, patient
    advocates, medical students, law schools, consumer advocates, and free speech
    monitors posted opinions that a doctor or plumber shouldn’t sue the family of a
    customer for a bad rating. These authors never said they saw my deleted ratings
    – only the news coverage.

    It was not my intention to use any descriptions or conclusions. It was also not my
    intention to claim that I had proof. Only my family and the doctor were in the
    room. My intention was to portray my recollection of what happened in my
    father’s room. The public could decide what to believe and what – if any -
    impact it had on them: insensitive doctor or overly-sensitive consumer?

    Medical peer newsletters or magazines that interviewed the plaintiff did not approach me. Websites maintained by doctors for doctors or lawyers for lawyers often caused an inference that I was a zealot family member or somebody who had asked about my dad’s chances and then shot the messenger. Generally, however, those websites echoed other websites in advising public relations responses other
    than a lawsuit – for fear of creating the “Streisand Effect.” As a retired
    layman, I brought far less resources to the battle of financial attrition.

    The Minnesota Supreme Court compared every statement I attributed to
    Dr. David McKee against every statement he claimed he really said. The Court
    concluded the impact of each set of statements was the same. For instance, the
    Minnesota high court said that Dr. David McKee’s version of his comment about
    the intensive care unit was substantially similar to mine.

    I’ve learned that laws about slander and libel do not conform to one’s expectations.
    I’ve read that online complaints are safe “if you stick to the facts.” That’s
    exactly the wrong advice. I did not want to merely post my conclusions. I
    wanted to stick to my recollection of what I’d heard. I don’t like to read
    generalities like “I’m upset. He did not treat my father well. He was insensitive.
    He didn’t spend enough time in my opinion.” However, such generalities are
    excused as opinion, hyperbole, or angry utterances. If one purports to say what
    happened, factual recitations can be litigated. The plaintiff must prove the
    facts are willfully misstated, but the defendant can go broke while waiting
    through the effort.

    During the existence of David McKee MD vs Dennis Laurion, I heard Dr. McKee’s lawyer tell the Minnesota Supreme Court how I could have commented without being defamatory. I am upset. I think Doctor McKee did not treat my father well. I think he was insensitive. He did not spend enough time in my opinion.