Plastic Surgeon Sues Patient For Defamation After Negative Online Reviews

Online rating sites are a great tool for consumers researching services their peers have already experienced. So in the case of getting cosmetic surgery, a bad review is akin to a huge spitball thrown at a business, which is why an Orlando plastic surgeon is suing one of his former patients for defaming him online.

The Orlando Sentinel says the surgeon claims the patient’s comments on RateMDs.com aren’t opinions that are protected by the First Amendment, but a “malicious campaign of unlawfully defaming and spreading lies” about the doctor and his business.

The unnamed patient’s lawyer says if this lawsuit is successful, it’ll put a freeze on the usefulness of such rating sites like RateMDs.com, Yelp, Angie’s List and others that review services.

“The terror created by this lawsuit will squelch freedom of speech,” said David Muraskin, a Public Citizen attorney representing the patient.

In 2011, the anonymous online comments about breast-augmentation surgeries claimed that the doctor had botched the work, saying there was unevenness, extra scarring and other issues. The doctor’s lawyers claim those statements are defamatory because they aren’t true, while other comments about the “end result is horrible” is an opinion.

“If a patient is unhappy, they can use constructive criticism, or return to the surgeon to fix it,” said the doctor’s lawyer. “This person has a vendetta, and my client has to use the court system to remedy that.”

The surgeon believes the patient has posed as other patients and posted multiple comments on the site. He’s seeking $49,000 in damages and wants the posts removed.

*Thanks for the tip, Jareesa!

Doctor sues patient over Web comments [Orlando Sentinel]

Comments

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  1. Cat says:

    Pictures? Let me be the judge.

    • UberGeek says:

      Which is likely what the lawsuit is about. “If you want to post negative comments about me, I’ll force you to show your breasts to a courtroom of people or have pictures of them made public record.”

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      Sorry, photos won’t do it. Unevenness will require a thorough tactile session with my digital manipulators.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      Makes me wonder if the doc is just a boob making things bigger than they actually are, you know, making mountains out of molehills. I hope he’s not trying to milk these artificial reviews just to get $45K for a new motorboat. If the court bounces his claim, she may end up counter-suing, tit for tat. Please keep us abreast of this issue and don’t let it drop.

  2. u1itn0w2day says:

    Hmmm, I never would’ve known about that doctor until the lawsuit. Now many more patients motivated to do research.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Even if he’s actually a good surgeon, unless he’s also telling the truth about the patient lying and making up fake accounts and fake posts I wouldn’t want to deal with him if he’s such an ass as to sue someone for expressing their honest opinion.

      • Doubting thomas says:

        He is not suing them for posting an honest opinion. He is suing them for posting false statements. Unevenness and scarring are not subjective. they are measurable facts.

        • MathMan aka Random Talker says:

          Exactly, it seems like a smart lawsuit. Sue for what can be measured and recorded as observable facts but allow for the opinion statement. Isn’t this how things just should be done?

          But then again “uneveness” could be subjective. I agree with Cat – we must see photos to judge accurately.

  3. Gizmosmonster says:

    Law School Prof on this topic-
    “truth is the ultimate defense.”

    • Bladerunner says:

      But only in America! (This is in America, but it still boggles my mind that it’s not the ultimate defense in the UK).

      • OSAM says:

        Is in Canada too. First defense against defamation is the truth.

        • Bladerunner says:

          Sorry, didn’t really mean “only in America”.

          Nice to know the Canucks have a reasonable law too!

          • Galium says:

            Actually Canada is in North America just like the United States and Mexico. The USA means United States of America, with the key word being of.

            • Bladerunner says:

              But common usage is to say “America” as shorthand for “United States of America”, so I doubt anyone was confused, nor would they be, since (if we’re going to be pedantic) there is North America and South America, but no continent of America, nor does anyone use “America” as shorthand for either of those.

              • Galium says:

                Agree that is the logical reason for being called Americans, but anyone in the 3 Americas can rightly call themselves Americans. The same as anyone from Asia can call themselves Asians, Europe, Europeans etc. The people from the US do not have an exclusive right. Just saying. I always had this mental image of Mexicans and Canadians going all over the world and causing trouble and telling everone they are Americans. Now that I thought on it a bit more maybe that is really happening and people from the US are nice, considerate, honest, open people when we travel abroad. It’s the damn Canadians and Mexicans that are ruining our reputation. s/

                • nickmoss says:

                  There are only two Americas. While some refer to the countries between Mexico and and South America as Central America, these countries are actually a part of the continent of North America. This also includes th islands of the Caribbean

            • Costner says:

              And yet we still get to call our selves “Americas” who live in “America” and everyone worldwide knows what the eff we are talking about.

              Canadians can just get the hell over it already. When you want a tissue you sometimes ask for a Kleenex. When you want a cotton swab you might say Q-Tip, and when you are speaking of a United States Citizen, you proably say American.

              That is just how it is. If Canadians want to call themselves “The Northern Americans” by all means. Or maybe take a book from Pork’s marketing campaing and call themselves “The Other Americans”.

              • Galium says:

                The main reason people from the United States are called Americans is that unlike all the other countries there is no good way to say people of the United States. Canada has Canadians, Mexico has Mexicans, Spain has Spanish etc etc etc. There is no easy way to describe people from the US. United Statians? United Staters? United Statish? no matter what anyone could come up with roles off the tongue very well. The only country that had/has an actual name for people from the US is the English, they still call us colonist.

              • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

                Actually, most of us call ourselves “Americans”. (with an ‘n’)

  4. Doubting thomas says:

    For slander or Libel the truth is the ultimate defense. if he botched the surgery then this woman has lopsided breasts and excessive scarring. She shows them to the judge and wins the case. if the surgery wasn’t botched then the surgeon is 100% in the right to sue for slander

    • Darrone says:

      It gets a bit trickier when you post multiple times as different people. You could say that the doctor did not botch MULTIPLE implants, and therefore what you posted is false.

      • jimbo831 says:

        You must have missed where it said “The surgeon BELIEVES the patient has posted as other patients and posted multiple comments on the site.” I don’t see anything that says the doctor has any proof of this. Perhaps this doctor has simply botched several surgeries and wants to blame it all on this one patient?

    • nickmoss says:

      A bedrock principle of libel law is that truth is an absolute defense. If what you say about someone is true, the person cannot win a libel case against you, even if you defame them. The federal appeals court in Boston put a jackhammer to the bedrock in 2009. In Noonan v. Staples, it ruled that even a true statement can be subject to a libel lawsuit if it was said with actual malice. In so deciding, the three-judge panel did an about face, reversing its own earlier decision in the same case. You need not be superstitious to appreciate the import of this ruling. It is the most dangerous libel decision in decades. The decision puts a crack in the bedrock that threatens to undermine free speech.

  5. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The issue here is that the surgeon claims the poster has posed as different clients, and used multiple names in multiple posts in a ‘campaign’ against him. This is beyond just posting an honest review on a website.

    • JennQPublic says:

      If it’s just that she has different user names for different review sites, that sounds reasonable. If she has multiple names for the same site, that’s a problem.

  6. eturowski says:

    The surgeon’s CV is pretty good (Hopkins for med school, Wash U. St. Louis for residency, fancy private hospital in Baltimore for fellowship), and it does seem like a couple of the reviews in question are awfully similar.

    However, getting $49,000 worth of worked up about a couple of bad internet reviews makes him really sound like a dick.

    • az123 says:

      I suspect he is worked up more on the fact this type of thing can cost him a lot of money over the years.

      People need to learn you cannot just say whatever you want on the internet about someone and not be held accountable. if this person is doing multiple posts as fake patients then by definition the review is not true (as the whole situation is made up) and therefore the surgeon has a case and needs to go after to protect his business

    • TBGBoodler says:

      Would you go to a plastic surgeon that had even one “botched the job” review?

      • FatLynn says:

        Virtually every doctor faces malpractice suits at some point in his/her career. Everyone makes mistakes.

        • Darkneuro says:

          But she’s not suing him for malpractice. She’s posting bad reviews claiming he botched it up under multiple names for the same review sites. It’s probably affecting his business.

    • George4478 says:

      Posting multiple fake reviews by multiple fake patients for the purpose of hurting a doctor’s practice is a dick move. Defending your livelihood against such a person is a good idea.

    • Woodside Park Bob says:

      You can’t judge a physician by where they went to medical school or received additional training. Somebody was at the bottom of every class! Furthermore their skills may have deteriorated over time, they may have become impaired for various reasons, etc.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      $49k, what is that, like 3 boob jobs? I’m surprised it’s not more.

  7. Bruce W says:

    Didn’t the posting say the online comments were anonymous? How in the world can he sue?

    • Moniker Preferred says:

      Mostly, you are not truly anonymous, even when you think you are. At the very least, the post contains an IP address. Your service provider maintains records that are able to track that back to your computer. Some service providers (or websites) may require a court order to divulge your information. Others don’t want to get involved in a lawsuit and hand over your information when requested by an attorney’s office. It depends.

      Using an anonymizer service helps. Some of them claim they do not retain any records, but even this is under attack by new “We hate Big Government, really!” laws proposed by Republicans.

  8. Ilovegnomes says:

    “If a patient is unhappy, they can use constructive criticism, or return to the surgeon to fix it,”

    If the doctor is not competent enough to do the procedure correctly the first time, why should the patient have to trust the doctor to go in to fix it? You hear horror stories about people doing just that and each time it gets worse. If I had a botched surgery, I would opt to find another doctor to fix it and not go to the first doctor that could make things worse.

    • Elizabeth B says:

      If I were a surgeon and botched something such that the patient wouldn’t let me fix it, I would pay another surgeon to fix it. But the patient would have to talk to me so that I could help. Ranting to the world at large isn’t as effective as a conversation.

    • Elizabeth B says:

      If I were a surgeon and botched something such that the patient wouldn’t let me fix it, I would pay another surgeon to fix it. But the patient would have to talk to me so that I could help. Ranting to the world at large isn’t as effective as a conversation.

      • Ilovegnomes says:

        My husband had a botched oral surgery procedure and the surgeon was just smug and continued to be irresponsible. Even after having the ER doc call that surgeon and yell at him about violating medical guidelines, the guy was just smug, causing the ER doc to be just as furious. I wish every surgeon would be as responsible as you would be if you were one but that doesn’t seem to be the position of people in the field. If anything, I would think that their legal counsel would advise them not to admit to fault of any kind otherwise it would open them up to some sort of liability and/or lawsuit. I’m not a lawyer but this seems like common sense. With that said, it only leaves the patient with recourse of going to another doctor and/or writing about their experiences online to warn others.

  9. Alan says:

    “If a patient is unhappy, they can use constructive criticism”

    Is this doctor or lawyer young enough to be brought up in the “everybody is a winner” age? It is an online review, the can be as constructive or negative as they want to be. This is the real world, everybody doesn’t get a trophy just for playing.

  10. Sarahlara says:

    I have been planning to write a bad review of a plastic surgeon because the nose job I had when I had my septoplasty didn’t make any difference (even he agrees the b&a pics are identical.) He is a prominent surgeon. What I would like to warn people about is that he made big promises pre-surgery that he now says couldn’t have been achieved by anyone anyway. boo, hiss!

    He offered to do a revision but said that it would probably look the same afterward. Apparently W.C. Fields noses are impervious to change.

    Getting sued by the guy would make an upsetting situation worse, though. Even though I wouldn’t exaggerate my claims, I’m sure he could dispute some things if he wanted. It’s not like I have proof of things he said. At some point, I’m just going to have to learn to love my nose and move on.

    • Such an Interesting Monster says:

      You should see another surgeon. Or two.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I agree with Such an Interesting Monster (fantastic username/pic btw). I would definitely get someone else to take a look. The original surgeon sounds too “Oh well.” I would never accept that.

  11. SoCalGNX says:

    People might notice that companies like Odesk that hire workers for different online jobs often have ads for people to write “reviews”.
    I also saw reviews for a children’s dentist in the San Diego area. Almost every one said good things except for one woman. She went out of her way to say bad things about the dentist on a number of sites. A little reading between the lines showed that she not only wanted a bunch of work done all at one time for her child, but that her child had decay above and beyond what is normal. Which indicates a real lack of parenting skill.

  12. energynotsaved says:

    One thing my doctor failed to mention was that it takes two years for the boobs to really look normal. The initial scarring is awful. Mine were too high and looked odd. Due to swelling, the boobs may well be uneven. I was so upset. After 18 months, I loved them and still do. (Warning: a boob job won’t save a bad marriage.)

    I wonder if this person was expecting the ideal look immediately? Or, she might just have a bad boob job. Regardless, when one writes a review, write it in light of a potential law suit.

  13. Coffee says:

    Rivera said he most likely will drop that subpoena because he has independently learned that patient is an Osceola County schoolteacher. He suspects she has posted multiple comments on the website, posing as another unhappy patient.

    If this happened, I feel the lawsuit has merit. It’s one thing to go online and voice your displeasure with a service, but when you start pretending you’re other people in order to make it appear like this is a pattern, you’re getting into lawsuit territory.

  14. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    slappy slapp

  15. Hub Cap says:

    Slander is spoken. Libel is written. Libel generally requires false statements that cause harm or financial loss.

  16. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The decline of anonymity and the requirement of many sites to login with your Google Plus or Facebook password is changing the game and making people more accountable for their words and to think more before they post.

  17. crispyduck13 says:

    I’m looking forward to this episode of Judge Judy.

  18. ecuador says:

    This article is useless without the pics. I mean, was this defamation or truthful reviews, we won’t know until we get the photographic evidence…

  19. Boo LaRue says:

    People just kill me. I was literally stalked on Yelp by people I assumed to be a business owner’s friends because of a less than flattering review I left of the business on the site. If one can’t honestly review their experiences and are expected only to leave glowing reviews, what’s the point?

  20. RandomLetters says:

    I see it as there are two battles to be fought here. Did she create other fake reviews? Then yes, she has commited liable. The second one, is the scarring and uneveness beyond what could be considered normal after this kind of operation? That’s the one that the difference between opinion and liable is going to play a major role. And often times that difference is left up to the court. Even something as small as saying “They’re uneven” as opposed to saying “They appear to me to be uneven” can make all the difference.

  21. matlock expressway says:

    “The Orlando Sentinel says the surgeon claims the patient’s comments on RateMDs.com aren’t opinions that are protected by the First Amendment …”

    False. They are indeed protected by the First Amendment.

    However, the First Amendment only protects them from government interference. It has nothing to do with a civil dispute, unless the plaintiff wins the case and the defendant wants to allege that the law against libel (if this is indeed libel) infringes that right.

  22. Nighthawke says:

    Sir John Strange
    Here lies an honest lawyer,
    And that is Strange.

  23. sgtyukon says:

    Consumerist didn’t mention the doctor’s name, but the Orlando Sentinel did, so Streisand effect.

  24. Jack Doe says:

    Why isn’t this being dismissed as a SLAPP lawsuit?

  25. valthun says:

    I see that there are two issues at play here. One is the users opinion of the work, and we don’t know if she attempted to have it correct by the dr or if she felt she should go to another to repair the work. But regardless is her opinion of the work and therefore should stand as is. The other is the claim where she is posting as multiple patients with bad reviews. This is the one that is a problem and if true the patient should beheld liable for that.

  26. Sad Sam says:

    I’m not sure I understand the premise of this post. First, the patient has posted several reviews under different identifies on one site or multiple sites? I normally review travel vendors on Trip Adviser and bars/restaurant on Yelp. I don’t normally review twice unless I am super excited or super upset about service. I use different fake identities on both sites, why would I want my real name associated with my reviews? Does that make my reviews libelous, because I use a fake identity? No, its the content not how, or where or how many reviews a person posts. I’ve posted multiple bad reviews about an evil establishment in Las Vegas b/c they were horrible to me and my friends, cost us a lot of money, and somehow won the charge back war. I want them to lose business so I’ll continue to post, but my post is accurate and honest.

    • homehome says:

      The point is you’re continuing to do so and the fact you lost the chargeback, which most CC companies almost always side with the customer, you must’ve been really in the wrong.

  27. SilverBlade2k says:

    This surgeon probably did more damage to his career by suing a patient than to just let it go and take negative reviews as part of businesses these days..

  28. Ayla says:

    I REALLY hope the doctor gets nowhere with this. I just made the rounds on those sites to post a negative review of our family nurse practitioner after she made a HUGE screw up and then her office staff threatened me when I took my business elsewhere.

    I think people have the right to post reviews online and I think it’s important to hold people, especially doctors, responsible for their mistakes.

    • rmds2011 says:

      So if you think its so important to hold people, especially doctors, responsible for their mistakes, should it not be EQUALLY as important to hold those same people accountable and responsible for their comments?

      Allowing anonymous posting does not hold people accountable or responsible.

      They can write whatever they want (as their Freedom of Speech rights), that is not the issue.

      Accountability IS the issue.

      P.S. I even had to register and confirm my email just to post this reply to you Ayla! See I’m accountable!

  29. sadie kate says:

    Huh, I wish I would have known about this story last week. I wrote an article that it would have fit perfectly into. Here it is, if anyone’s curious:

    http://www.bridgeconsultinginc.com/blog/social-media-blog/how-getting-good-yelp-reviews-can-be-like-pulling-teeth/

  30. WalterSinister2 says:

    OK, opinions are protected speech. As for the rest, does Florida have an anti-SLAPP statute? (statutes that punish Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).

  31. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    So the doctor is freely admitting the botching boob jobs, but just not this many?

  32. ladyilea says:

    A few years ago, I was contacted by Angie’s List. They asked if I would be willing to review any suppliers from my area that I knew about. They offered me a free membership for my reviews and I agreed. It took me some time to even decide to review any supplier as I don’t usually do so, but I did submit a few reviews.
    I have recently quit Angie’s List as I found out that the reviews do NOT recognize the difference between services in a rural area and a huge metropolis, like Seattle or New York. This is useless to me and many times, living in a rural area, we only have one supplier (if we are fortunate). Sometimes we have no suppliers in a specific category, so Angie’s List is useless living in a very rural area. Sorry, I have heard too many horror stories about this site and I am finished with them.
    I also recently participated in a contest they were having and met (what I thought were all the criteria). It turns out that they chose to go back on their promises (no surprise?) but never informed me in time so that I could do anything about it. In fact, the only contact from them said that they had my reviews and everything appeared to be fine. After the contest closed and I inquired about receiving the promised coupon, was I told that I had been disqualified. That’s fine and they can do that. I do question their timing and the prior email that said I had already met the criteria. Interesting marketing plan that they have, so they lost another customer. I guess it is true that when one starts a corporation and it appears on it’s way to success, they become as greedy and corrupt as any other established corporation. Problem is that there is no oversight federal agency and most federal agencies aren’t even attempting to correct problems as they just cannot keep up with the demands any longer. So, the unsuspecting public is on their own to fight these battles with corporate America.