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By: Shaun Daugherty & Samantha Skolnick
Mothers all over the world have admonished their children: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It may lose something when translated into some obscure dialects, but the sentiment was still there. Now that we live in the age of technology, it appears that the old saying could use a facelift. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, you should not type it anywhere on the internet.” That is especially true if you are criticizing doctors and hospitals.
A wave of litigation has been emerging involving doctors and hospitals, but in these instances, they are not the targets, they are the plaintiffs. Doctors and hospitals are starting to sue their patients for negative reviews on social media. The most recent example earned itself an article in USA Today where retired Colonel David Antoon had to pay $100 to settle felony charges for emailing his surgeon articles that the doctor found threatening as well as posting a list on Yelp of the surgeries the urologist had scheduled for the same time as his own. Antoon alleged that his surgery left him incontinent and impotent and he had tried to appeal to the court of public opinion.
In other news, a Cleveland physician sued a former patient for defamation after the negative internet reviews of her doctor reached the level of deliberately false and defamatory statements. The case may be headed to trial in August. Close by, a Michigan hospital sued three relatives for Facebook posts and picketing which amounted to defamation, tortious interference and invasion of privacy. The family claimed that the hospital had mistreated their deceased grandmother.
We live in a country that ensures freedom of speech, and that right is exercised more than ever with the advent of social media and an ever-growing audience of participants. However, there can be consequences if the speech is inaccurate or defamatory in nature. While some attorneys, like Steve Hyman, cite the law in stating that “[t]ruth is an absolute defense. If you do that and don’t make a broader conclusion that they’re running a scam factory then you can write a truthful review that ‘I had a bad time with this doctor.’” Other commentators, like Evan Mascagni from the Public Participation Project, tout avoiding broad generalizations, “If you’re going to make a factual assertion, be able to back that up and prove that fact.” That is defense against defamation claims 101.
The world of non-confrontational criticism on social medial makes it easy and tempting to post an emotionally fueled rant. But beware! You want to avoid a situation like that of Michelle Levine who has spent nearly $20,000 defending herself against a suit filed by her Gynecologist over defamation, libel, and emotional distress. The 24-hour rule is still a viable alternative to hitting “send” or “post.” Type it out, let it sit and ruminate for a bit, and then decided if you are going to post the negative comments for the world to see. Some opinions are worth sharing, or you may decide…. don’t say anything at all.
If you have any questions or would like more information please contact Shaun Daugherty at [email protected] or Samantha Skolnick at [email protected].