Woman Sued for Writing Negative Yelp Review

A negative Yelp review could cost one woman close to $1 million.

Jane Perez, a Virginia woman who wrote a scathing Yelp review of the contracting company that worked on her home, is being sued by Christopher Dietz for $750,000, according to the Washington Post.

Dietz, the owner of Dietz Development, filed the Internet defamation lawsuit filed last month, stating that “plaintiffs have been harmed by these statements, including lost work opportunities, insult, mental suffering, being placed in fear, anxiety, and harm to their reputations.”

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  • tribune reader

    Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune, Updated January 30, 2013 – 9:59
    PM

    Finding no harm done, justices toss out lawsuit by Duluth physician.

    Dennis Laurion fired off his screed on a few rate-your-doctor websites
    in April 2010, along with some letters about what he saw as poor bedside manner
    by his father’s neurologist. He expected at most what he calls a
    “non-apology apology.”

    “I really thought I’d receive something within a few days along the
    lines of ‘I’m sorry you thought I was rude, that was not my intent’ and that
    would be the end of it,” the 66-year-old Duluth retiree said. “I
    certainly did not expect to be sued.”

    He was. Dr. David McKee’s defamation lawsuit was the beginning of a
    four-year legal battle that ended Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court
    ruled the doctor had no legal claim against Laurion because there was no proof
    that his comments were false or were capable of harming the doctor’s
    reputation.

    The unanimous ruling reverses an earlier Appeals Court decision and
    brings to an end the closely watched case that brought to the forefront a First
    Amendment debate over the limits of free speech online.

    It’s a frustrating end for McKee, 51, who said he’s spent at least
    $50,000 in legal fees and another $11,000 to clear his name online after the
    story went viral, resulting in hundreds more negative postings about him –
    likely from people who never met him. He hasn’t ruled out a second lawsuit
    stemming from those posts.

    “The financial costs are significant, but money is money and five
    years from now I won’t notice the money I spent on this,” he said.
    “It’s been the harm to my reputation through the repeated publicity and
    the stress.”

    He said he offered to settle the case at no cost after the Supreme Court
    hearing. Laurion contends they couldn’t agree on the terms of the settlement,
    and said he not only deleted his initial postings after he was initially
    served, but had nothing to do with subsequent online statements about McKee.

    The lawsuit followed the hospitalization of Laurion’s father, Kenneth,
    for a hemorrhagic stroke at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth. Laurion, his mother
    and his wife were also in the room when McKee examined the father and made the
    statements that Laurion interpreted as rude. After his father was discharged,
    he wrote the reviews and sent the letters.

    On at least two sites, Laurion wrote that McKee said that “44 percent
    of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better
    option,” and that “It doesn’t matter that the patient’s gown did not
    cover his backside.”

    Laurion also wrote: “When I mentioned Dr. McKee’s name to a friend
    who is a nurse, she said, ‘Dr. McKee is a real tool!’”

    McKee sued after he learned of the postings from another patient. A St.
    Louis County judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Laurion’s statements were
    either protected opinion, substantially true or too vague to convey a defamatory
    meaning. The Appeals Court reversed that ruling regarding six of Laurion’s
    statements, reasoning that they were factual assertions and not opinions, that
    they harmed McKee’s reputation and that they could be proven as false.

    The Supreme Court disagreed. Writing the opinion, Justice Alan Page
    noted that McKee acknowledged that the gist of some of the statements were
    true, even if they were misinterpreted. Page added that the “tool”
    statements also didn’t pass the test of defaming McKee’s character. He
    dismissed an argument by McKee’s attorney, Marshall Tanick, that the
    “tool” comment was fabricated by Laurion and that the nurse never existed.
    Whether it was fabricated or not was irrelevant, the court ruled.
    “Referring to someone as ‘a real tool’ falls into the category of pure
    opinion because the term ‘real tool’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as
    stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false,” Page wrote.

    Tanick said the ruling could present a slippery slope.

    “This decision gives individuals a license to make derogatory and
    disparaging statements about doctors, professionals and really anyone for that
    matter on the Internet without much recourse,” he said.

    Jane Kirtley disagreed. The professor of media ethics and law at the
    University of Minnesota School of Journalism said the ruling stems from
    “an elementary principle of libel law. I understand the rhetoric, but this
    is not a blank check for people to make false factual statements,” she
    said. “Rather, it’s an endorsement that statements of opinion are
    protected under the First Amendment.”

    Laurion’s attorney, John D. Kelly, said the fact that Laurion’s speech
    was made online was inconsequential to the ruling, which treated it as a
    standard defamation case. “It’s almost as if things were said around the
    water cooler or perhaps posted in a letter to the editor,” he said.
    “I think the principles they worked with are applicable to statements made
    irrespective of the medium.”

    Full article:
    http://www.startribune.com/local/189028521.html?refer=y

  • Dennis

    Although the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed David McKee MD vs Dennis Laurion, the 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.

    McKee v 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 again.

    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. Newspaper stories have caused people to call or write me to relate their own medical
    experiences. I’ve referred them to my lawyers. I’ve also received encouragement
    from other persons who have been sued over accusations of libel or slander.

    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.

    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.

    I feel that defamation lawsuits are much too easy for wealthy plaintiffs. If I were to attempt suing a doctor for malpractice, my case would not proceed until I’d obtained an affidavit from another doctor, declaring that the defendant’s actions did not conform to established procedures. In a defamation suit, there’s generally no exit short of a judge’s dismissal order – which can be appealed by the plaintiff. Being called “defendant” is terribly personal, but the civil suit path is totally impersonal. During the three years that I went through depositions, interrogatories, a dismissal hearing, an appellate hearing, and a state Supreme Court hearing; I never once spoke to a judge. At depositions, the plaintiff and I sat opposite each other, while I answered his lawyer’s questions, and he answered my lawyer ‘s questions. We were not to speak to each other.

    Minnesota and two other states allow “hip pocket” lawsuits. The plaintiff can start a suit by sending the summons and complaint to the defendant without filing the documents in court. The plaintiff enjoys complete anonymity from public awareness. The defendant has 20
    days to respond, but the court is unaware that the suit exists. The plaintiff can conduct interrogatories and depositions while the court is unaware that the suit exists. The plaintiff can send settlement demands to the defendant ‘s insurance company while the court is unaware that the suit exists. Until the suit is actually filed, the plaintiff’s lawyer orchestrates everything as the officer of the court. If the defendant files his answer, in order to publicly get onto the docket and under the supervision of a judge, the defendant pays the filing fee. In Minnesota, if the plaintiff loses his effort at rule by law, the rule of law generally allows the defendant no remuneration. The plaintiff can lose the suit while winning the battle of financial attrition.

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