Ladies and gents, we’re entering a new era of the Internet. For some time now, we’ve been freed from boring, generic top-level domains, like .com, .net, .org and .biz. Now, we can feast on spicy gTLDs, like .tv and .[your hometown].
And digital things are about to get more attention-grabbing, because .suck is now an available option. [Get ready judges, because we sense a new wave of Internet defamation lawsuits is on the way.]
Vox Populi Registry Ltd. “owns” the rights to the new gTLD — and is responsible for the roll out. The company makes money any time someone buys a .suck website.
How Much Do The “Suck Sites” Cost?
Currently, .suck domains are only available to celebrities and trademark holders. This rarefied group must shell out around $2,000 per URL. According to reports, the company selling the .suck domains priced them high to deter malicious, cybersquatting actions.
In September, however, we “regulars” who want to own the .suck sites, for our businesses or names, can buy them for $9.95. However, if you choose this option, forget about using a website design of your choosing. Instead, you’re limited to using the registrar’s generic forum platform.
Is The .Suck Scheme a “Predatory Shakedown”? The Mega-Corps Think So.
Guess who isn’t happy about the .suck top-level domain option? Giant corporations, including Microsoft, Ebay and Verizon.
The mega-corps are so concerned about .suck sites that they’ve sicked one of their lobbying groups on the issue. Formally, the group has asked that the .suck roll out be postponed, calling it a “predatory…shakedown scheme.” Moreover, the companies believe that the general sign-up set to commence in September is “an essential element of Vox Populi’s coercive scheme.”
And the big wigs may get their way, as ICANN has yet to shoot down the lobby group’s request. As you probably already imagined, Vox Populi insists that it isn’t doing anything against the law or ICANN regulations.
The Consequences of an Ill-Advised .Suck Website
If you’re reading this, licking your revenge chops, and thinking: “Yes! I am so getting a .suck site to berate [insert name of enemy or business you hate],” you may want to slow your .suck roll.
Because you could find yourself on the losing side of a lawsuit.
What you can be charged with if you go too far with your .suck site about a person or business:
- Defamation: It’s not illegal to say something negative about another person or business, but it is illegal to make a malicious, unprivileged, false statement of fact about another person or businesses.
- False Light: In some jurisdictions, it’s illegal to paint an inaccurate picture of an individual that damages their reputation.
- Trade Libel: Spreading untruths about a service or business is considered product disparagement, and it’s against the law.
- Online Harassment: Threatening, stalking or otherwise mercilessly harassing a person is squarely illegal in every state.
- Cyberbullying: Some jurisdictions have cyberbullying laws on the books that can be used for various types of online harassment.
- Revenge Porn: Every week, another state is ratifying a revenge porn law. For an updated list, head here.
Get In Touch With An Internet Lawyer
Kelly / Warner Law is an Internet law firm. We work with both individuals and businesses that are dealing with online legal issues. To learn more about the firm, click here. To get in touch, click here. To set up a consultation, click here.
Thanks to our nationwide network of attorneys, Kelly / Warner handle cases in all 50 U.S. states. We also work with businesses based in Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia. Contact us.
Set Up A Consultation Today!
ATTN DENTISTS: If you’re using a patient contract that asserts copyright ownership of online reviews, it’s time to get it updated. Why? Because judges have decided that those types of agreements are no longer enforceable.
Doctor and Dentist Patient Contract That Confer Copyrights of Online Reviews
In the not too distant past, and in an effort to curtail negative online reviews, many dentists used a patient contract with an online copyright clause. Essentially, patients signed away their copyrights to online reviews regarding the dentist’s performance – good or bad.
Because if someone posted a negative review, the dentist could simply submit a DMCA take down request to get the bad evaluation removed from the Web. Some contracts even included a clause asserting a fee for every day the negative review remained online.
Used To Work, But Judges Caught On, And Are Now Putting An End To It
Once patients clued in to the parameters of these “patient copyright contracts,” they rang the caveat emptor alarms. Quickly, and due to lawsuits, judges were able to weigh in on the validity of these contracts.
The Judges’ overwhelming verdicts? These types of patient contracts are not enforceable because, in the United States, you can’t preemptively extinguish someone’s free speech rights.
Patient: 1, Dentist: 0
Recently, a new York court heard a patient v. dentist online review case. Ultimately, the judge ruled that the contract – which claimed copyrights and forbade future negative reviews – was unconstitutional and unenforceable.
In the judge’s exact words:
“[Online copyright control contracts] constitute breaches of fiduciary duty and violations of dental ethics and are subject to the equitable defenses of unclean hands, and, as to such assignment and assertion, constitute copyright misuse.”
In this case, however, no money will likely exchange hands because three years ago the dentist involved vanished; never to be heard from again.
Speak With A Dentist Defamation Lawyer
Kelly / Warner Law works with both doctors and patients. We’ve helped medical professionals get negative reviews removed from the Internet, and we’ve also assisted patients who’ve been unfairly sued for online defamation over a less-than-glowing missives.
To learn more about our online defamation practice, click here. If you’re ready to speak with one of our experienced lawyers with patient contract drafting experience, set up a consultation. Contact us.
Is An Online Review Poster Going To Jail? Probably.
A paid online review rabble-rouser is in deep poo over a Google Maps review. His name is Jason Page; he lives in the United Kingdom, and he made the giant mistake of leaving a fake review on the page of a Colorado-based lawyer, Timothy Bussey. Now, Page is out $50,000 and may have to spend some time in the clink.
Paid Online Review Sparks International Lawsuit
Page labeled Bussey “a scumbag” and accused the attorney of “paying for positive reviews.” Page also alleged that Bussey “loses 80% of his cases.”
Perhaps Page thought he was in the clear since he lived in the UK and Bussey in the United States. After all, who was going to waste time and money going after a kid, who still lived with his parents, over a lousy online review, right?
Page’s defamatory missive caused Bussey serious financial setbacks. People would read the online review and click away to another attorney. So, Bussey did what any lawyer would do – he subpoenaed Google and procured information that led to unearthing Page’s real identity.
Police & Judge Don’t Believe Troll
When law enforcement officials approached Page, he denied culpability. The lawyer detractor blamed his status as a sub-Reddit moderator for the mishap, alleging that hackers were repaying him for a decision he made in that role.
But the judge wasn’t moved by Page’s pleas. In fact, he called it “extremely improbable.”
Bussey has suspicions that Page may have been paid to leave the bad review, and he is continuing to pursue the case. So, if you’re guilty, watch out – sounds like Bussey is still on the hunt!
Online Trolling Is Illegal; You Could End Up In Jail or Be Bankrupted
Many people think that online trolling and writing a paid online review is perfectly legal. Still others believe that a VPN will protect them from being uncovered. Neither of these things is true. It is possible to unearth the names of anonymous trolls – even when they use cloaking techniques.
Now, not all trolls will land behind bars. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have civil legal actions brought against them. Even if individuals don’t engage in criminal activity or online stalking, they can still be sued for:
- Trade Libel or Product Disparagement,
- False Light Invasion of Privacy,
- Unfair Competition, or
- Tortious Interference.
Got Questions? Speak With An Online Harassment Attorney
Kelly / Warner Law has considerable experience with international Internet law cases. As a full-service practice, we handle cases ourselves. In addition, we act as the U.S. arm for overseas firms that need assistance from U.S-based lawyers for various court order and motion needs.
Kelly / Warner has an excellent track record and our attorneys are exceptionally knowledgeable when it comes to the law regarding fake and paid online review issues. Contact us.
The Four Pillars of Defamation Law (AKA, What You Must Prove To Win A Defamation Lawsuit)
Legally, defamation is more than just “trash talk”; it’s an unprivileged and false statement of fact that causes the subject material or reputational harm. At the bare minimum, in the United States, to a win a slander (spoken defamation) or libel (written defamation) lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove:
- That the defendant either published or publicly broadcast an unprivileged lie;
- The “untruth” was about the plaintiff;
- The statement under review caused material or reputational harm to the plaintiff; and
- That the defendant acted with either a) negligence or b) actual malice.
What Is The Best Way To Avoid Defamation?
We’re defamation law attorneys, and, therefore, often asked: “How can I avoid being defamed?”
Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer to this question. In a way, it’s like asking: “How can I avoid rain for the rest of my life?” You’re not in control of the weather, nor are you in control of other people’s actions.
No matter how wonderful you are, there is no guarantee that someone won’t spread false rumors about you. You could be the nicest person in the world, but that doesn’t mean a competitor won’t try to gain an edge by hiring someone to libel your company or product.
What To Do If You’re The Target Of Defamatory Remarks
There isn’t much you can do to avoid being defamed, but you can take steps to mitigate the damage if attacked.
- Don’t claw back ASAP. Though your temper may be rightly piqued by false public accusations, it isn’t wise to bite back. If you can stay calm in a response to an online detractor, by all means, reply calmly. But if there’s a chance your reply will read as snarky, temper-filled or otherwise off-putting, refrain from replying. Let your calmer head prevail before responding.
- Contact an attorney and explain the situation. Find out the best legal options for your unique situation. Depending on the jurisdiction, you’ve got between one and three years to file a claim. Let a qualified attorney hear the facts of the case; let him or her tell you if you have a viable defamation claim. You can also learn the basics of defamation law here.
- If you decide to move forward legally, it’s important to gather as much information as possible, as close to the event as possible. Why? As a plaintiff in a U.S. slander or libel claim, the burden of proof is on your shoulders. Don’t just bookmark the pages, as they may be taken down. Be sure to make hard copies of any web page that contains the contested material.
Kelly / Warner handles all types of defamation law cases. Click here to learn more about our defamation legal practice. To speak with an attorney about your situation, contact us.
*Kelly / Warner was one of the U.S. firms that helped win the International Internet defamation case discussed in this post. A pioneer in Internet governance law, Kelly / Warner partners with overseas legal practices to resolve cross-border libel, harassment and unfair competition cases. If you’d like to speak with Kelly / Warner about a domestic or transnational Internet law issue, please contact us.*
A web developer may spend some time in jail over a $300 invoice.
“But how could that be!?,” you protest.
When someone opts to criminally harass a former client, instead of legally handling an invoice disagreement, they sometimes find themselves behind bars.
Web Developer Created Harassing Websites About Former Client
Web developers and clients often clash over expectations and invoice amounts. When serious conflicts arise, professionals typically seek the assistance of an attorney with Internet governance and arbitration experience.
But some web developers choose a more dastardly path: they create disparaging –often harassing – websites about former clients.
Paul Britton, of Origin Design, falls into the latter group. Because of a £200 (~$300) invoice dispute, Britton created several websites with the express purpose of humiliating his former client, and falsely labeled his foe a pedophile.
U.K.-based Britton thought using false credentials and U.S. companies to register and pay for the domains would sufficiently mask his identity.
But Britton didn’t do his Internet law homework.
If he had, Britton would’ve known that it’s possible to force Internet service providers and websites to fork over identifying information in criminal cases. Just because you use a fake name to register and set up a website doesn’t mean the “real you” can’t be unmasked – especially in service of a lawsuit.
How Kelly / Warner Law Helped Win This International Online Defamation Lawsuit
What The UK Team Needed to Prove
Due to the severity and nature of the accusations, the plaintiff’s legal team accused Britton of online harassment — a criminal charge in the United Kingdom. As such, the lawyers had to present evidence that satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt” standards. A simple IP address would not suffice, because, technically, IP addresses only represent computers, not people.
The U.K. legal team faced another challenge: Britton had done all his digital dirty work via U.S. companies. As an overseas practice, the prosecuting firm needed to partner with state-side practices that could obtain court orders compelling the U.S. ISP’s to hand over information in service of the lawsuit.
What Kelly Warner Did To Help Win This International Internet Law Caper
Our firm, Kelly / Warner, was one of the practices that partnered with the prosecuting U.K. legal team. Since Britton used U.S.-based ISPs to carry out his online revenge scheme, the plaintiff’s lawyers had a digital discovery challenge on their hands. In order to crack the case, they needed court orders, from U.S. judges, compelling parties – like PayPal.com and GoDaddy – to hand over user information.
We helped get those court orders.
Once in hand, the plaintiff’s U.K. lawyers were able to craft an unimpeachable case that included telephone recordings and password evidence.
Defense Argument That Didn’t Work In This International Internet Law Case
In this case, Britton’s defense attorneys used a decidedly 21st century legal argument [Paraphrasing]:
Since Britton’s disparaging sites didn’t appear in the first few pages of SERPs (search engine result pages), no harm was done, because nobody pays attention to SERP results past page three.
Some might call this the “twinkie defense” of Internet defamation law, but the argument isn’t completely baseless. At least under U.S. law, which requires nearly all* defamation plaintiffs to prove material harm. If a defendant can successfully argue that few people saw the material in question, case law precedence demands that even though a false statement of fact was made, the lack of material damage fails to meet the required preponderance of evidence for a successful libel claim.
(*Note: This statement doesn’t account for defamation per se. Defamation per se is a classification of slander or libel in which the accusation is recognized as inherently damaging. In such cases, the plaintiff doesn’t need to prove material harm, as it is inferred. Calling someone a pedophile would undoubtedly be considered defamatory per se in most jurisdictions that recognize the standard.)
Kelly / Warner: International Internet Governance Law
Due to the mounds of evidence, Britton had no choice but to plead guilty to criminal online harassment charges. No trial needed.
Kelly / Warner has considerable experience with international online defamation litigation. Frequently, we partner with overseas firms to close cross-border cases. Our attorneys and support staff know how to maneuver for a successful court order in online defamation and harassment cases.
Another Yelp defamation lawsuit has hit the courts. This time, a brokerage firm wants to sue a semi-anonymous reviewer for online defamation.
The Rhodes Team (“Rhodes”), a Texas brokerage firm, filed a defamation lawsuit against a Yelp! (“Yelp”) reviewer named “Lin L.” for typing on its page:
“[B]y far the worst deceitful and money greedy sales agent you would ever deal with.”
Previously, Rhodes enjoyed mostly 5-star ratings. Lin L.’s missive was a noticeable stain on Rhodes’ otherwise glowing Yelp profile.
Yelp Lawsuit Basis: “We’ve Never Had A Customer By That Name”
But team Rhodes is suspect of Lin L’s aspersions. Because according to company executives, no Lin L. has ever used their services. As such, Rhodes believes the disparaging comment was the handy work of a competitor – a little “hate us because they ain’t us” (TM “The Interview”) action, if you will.
So, Rhodes initiated a “John Doe” Yelp lawsuit.
Yelp Doesn’t Want To Hand Over Information In Yelp Defamation Case
But Yelp doesn’t want to hand over Lin L.’s information, and has filed a motion in protest. The online review company, however, may be forced to give up the goods. Last year, a court forced Yelp to hand over identifying information in another anonymous defamation case involving a carpet store. Similar to this suit, the plaintiff in the carpet case was able to prove temporal incongruity between Yelp allegations and company records.
That said, just because the plaintiff emerged victorious in the carpet case does not mean this court will automatically side with the claimant. Internet defamation is still a fairly new phenomenon, and precedent setting case law varies from state to state.
To learn more about the basics of defamation law, and what you must prove to win a slander or libel lawsuit, head here. To read more about other anonymous online defamation cases, go here. If you’re ready to speak with an Internet defamation attorney, get in touch here.
Speak With A Lawyer Who Has Successfully Litigated Yelp Lawsuits and Solved Online Review Disputes
Kelly / Warner is a top-rated law firm with a respected Internet defamation practice. Our attorneys are skilled at discovery for – and deconstructing of – online trade libel and professional defamation cases. Our experience means we’re able to resolve most situations quickly and cost effectively.
The statute of limitation for defamation isn’t long; between 1 and 3 years depending on jurisdiction. Don’t delay. Get in touch with Kelly / Warner to consult more about a potential Yelp lawsuit or pending litigation.
Do doctors sue each other for defamation? You bet your stethoscope they do. And the root incident is recurrently a malpractice lawsuit. So, let’s take a look at a recent doctor-on-doctor defamation case, and then review a few slander and libel law basics that often apply in medical defamation claims.
Two Doctors + Two Opinions = One Professional Blowup
The roots of this case stretch back five years. At the time, Dr. David Gillis was an emergency room doctor at Indian River Medical Center (IRMC), and Dr. Pranay Ramdev was a vascular surgeon at Lawnwood Medical Center (LMC). Being in relatively close proximity, the two hospitals regularly engaged in patient exchanges.
The Incident That Resulted In A Malpractice Suit
In 2011, Catherine Bollman arrived at Indian River Medical Center’s emergency room; Dr. Gillis was on call. She needed an immediate leg surgery; if not, death was probable.
Doctors determined that patient Bollman would best be served at Lawnwood, so Gillis called the facility and asked Dr. Pranay Ramdev – a vascular surgeon – to perform the surgery. According to reports, Gillis rang Lawnwood twice for confirmation.
But instead of performing the leg surgery, Ramdev left; Other Lawnwood doctors amputated Bollman’s leg; she died several days later from complications. Her husband filed a wrongful death/malpractice lawsuit against Drs. Gillis and Ramdev.
Eventually, Dr. Gillis was dismissed from the malpractice lawsuit. Ramdev wasn’t. In vain, he argued that he wasn’t the vascular surgeon on call that night, and, for this reason, not obligated to stay. In the end, Dr. Ramdev settled out of court and allegedly vowed to ruin Gillis, purportedly proclaiming:
“I will make it my life’s mission to prevent Dr. Gillis from ever working at this hospital again, as well as at Sebastian River Medical Center and Lawnwood Medical Center.”
In the wake of the incident, Ramdev supposedly characterized Gillis as “an unethical and incompetent physician” that deserved to lose his job.
Fast forward a few months.
Another patient with vascular complications arrived at IRMC and had to be transported to Lawnwood. Again, Gillis and Ramdev were the two doctors on each end. When Dr. Gillis called over to confirm, Dr. Ramdev refused to speak directly to his colleague, instead enlisting an intermediary to relay messages. This time, however, Ramdev didn’t leave; he stayed and operated.
But, according to the nurse on duty that day, Ramdev allegedly “badgered the patient’s husband and inquired … how [Gillis] had examined the patient.” In addition, and again according to the claim, Ramdev asked a nurse to add a negative comment about Gillis to the patient file. The nurse didn’t comply, though, because she didn’t witness Gillis’ patient exam.
How The Defamation Suit Came About
Around the time of these incidents, the Indian River Medical Center was in the midst of an administrative transition. Reassignments and replacements were rampant. Some of the staff formally asked to stay at the hospital, and Gillis was one of those people. But alas, hospital administrators opted not to renew his contract.
So, Gillis applied at Ramdev’s hospital, Lawnwood, and was offered a position.
After settling in at Lawnwood, Gillis learned that Ramdev had allegedly launched an “anti-Gillis” campaign at the facility.
Fed up with Ramdev’s supposed reputation ruining rampage, Gillis decided to file a professional defamation lawsuit. Curiously though, at the time of this writing, Gillis appears to be employed at Lawnwood. Nevertheless, he’s moving forward with his doctor slander lawsuit.
Does Dr. Gillis have a chance at winning this doctor v. doctor defamation claim? Let’s review.
To Win A Professional Defamation Lawsuit, Doctors Must Prove…
To win defamation lawsuits, plaintiffs must convince jurists that the statements under review are:
- About them;
- Verifiable false statements of fact; and
- Materially injurious to the plaintiffs’ reputations or businesses;
In addition, defamation plaintiffs must prove that the defendants:
- Published or broadcast the statements; and
- Acted either negligently or with actual malice, in distributing the material;
In this case, Dr. Gillis must prove that:
- Dr. Ramdev made false statements of fact about Dr. Gillis;
- Ramdev’s statement resulted in material harm for Gillis; and
- Dr. Ramdev acted negligently in relaying the information.
Privilege and Negligence
The facts in Gillis v. Ramdev are straightforward. So, the lawyers probably won’t waste time arguing obscure legal concepts. But they will undoubtedly debate “privilege” and “negligence” during the course of this action.
Privilege, legally speaking, is a protective relationship, under the cover of which parties can share information and rumor without fear of liability. For example, doctors and patients enjoy doctor-patient privileges; attorneys and their clients are protected via attorney-client privilege; husbands and wives cannot be forced to testify against each other.
In the overwhelming majority of doctor-on-doctor defamation lawsuits, privilege plays a part. Statements uttered or written in peer reviews are often privileged; they’re also commonly the root of medical defamation claims.
In Gillis v. Ramdev, defense lawyers will undoubtedly argue that privilege existed between Ramdev and the recording nurse. But will it work? Maybe. On one hand, doctors and nurses do enjoy some professional privileges. On the other hand, since the nurse refused to comply with the doctor’s wishes, the privilege defense may not work.
Proving negligence is, perhaps, the highest hurdle for defamation plaintiffs. To win slander and libel lawsuits, plaintiffs must prove that the defendants acted in spite of contradictory evidence or proper due diligence.
In Gillis v. Ramdev, however, negligence may be easy to prove. Remember, Ramdev knew the judge dismissed Gillis from the malpractice lawsuit, which effectively absolves Gillis of any professional wrongdoing in that instance. But, Ramdev allegedly continued to besmirch Gillis in a professional capacity, calling him “’an unethical and incompetent physician,’” who had ‘lied’ in the Bollman lawsuit.”
Speak With A Doctor Defamation Attorney
Kelly / Warner works with medical professionals facing reputation challenges – both online and off. Call or message today to learn more about your doctor defamation legal options.
In This Blog Post:
- Review of a trade libel example lawsuit: Parigi v. Puma;
- Explanation of why many unfair competition lawsuits involve trade secret and trade libel claims;
- Contact information for an unfair competition lawyer.
Defamation lawsuits aren’t exclusively matters of personal scorn and trash-talk. More often than not, libel and slander suits are nuanced, business law battles.
A recent legal tussle between Puma SE (“Puma”) and the Parigi Group Ltd. (“Parigi”) illustrates how defamation and trade secret torts can be leveraged in unfair competition lawsuits.
Background: Longstanding Licensing Agreement
The backbone of this trade libel example lawsuit is a longstanding licensing agreement.
For over ten years, Puma and Parigi enjoyed an amicable business relationship. A mutually beneficial agreement, Puma licensed its marks to Parigi, who then manufactured child-sized versions of Puma’s tracksuits and sportswear.
The Breakup: Longstanding Licensing Deal Broken Without Much Notice
The proverbial $#!+ hit the legal fan when Puma allegedly started *cheating* with United Legwear and Apparel Co. (“United”) behind Parigi’s back. According to Parigi, not only did Puma initiate clandestine talks with United, but executives from the fashion conglomerate supposedly bad-mouthed Parigi to several influential department stores. According to reports:
“’Puma intentionally and fraudulently made repeated misrepresentations to Parigi that Puma intended to renew the parties’ more than 10-year-long license agreement.’ It also alleges that Puma disclosed trade secrets and proprietary business information to United Legwear & Apparel Co. and tried to discredit Parigi among retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.”
Puma spokespeople swear that company representatives did nothing untoward, and the company is looking “forward to presenting [their] case.”
Trade Libel Example Case: Licensing Partner Problems
Full disclosure, we’ve not yet read the entire Parigi v. Puma filing. But judging from available reports, the crux of the lawsuit appears to be binary, in that the suit addresses both trade libel and trade secret issues.
Generally speaking, trade libel is the unfair disparagement of a product, service or business. (Read more about trade libel here.) Conversely, trade secrets are confidential, quasi-intellectual property holdings. (Read more about trade secrets here.)
In this case, Parigi is arguing:
Trade Secret Claim: Puma violated a trade secret agreement with Parigi by sharing information with United, before formally inking the deal.
Trade Libel / Defamation Claim: Puma executives purposefully and negligently spoke disparagingly of Parigi to executives at several department stores.
In Parigi v. Puma, the former insists the latter wasn’t forthcoming about its intentions to terminate a contract. Puma’s alleged reticence to renew the contract, however, isn’t the legal issue anchoring this case; it’s simply the branch on which the actual unfair competition claims — trade libel and trade secret misappropriation — were hung.
Puma and Parigi are two big business players in the fashion world. So, expect this lawsuit to be well-fought and long-lasting. In the words of Parigi spokesperson:
“We will see some very ugly things. Puma’s a major name in the industry, and my client’s a major name in the industry, and they’re going to war.”
Questions For A Business Defamation Lawyer?
Kelly / Warner handles all manners of business law issues, including trade libel and business defamation. If you need an attorney to review documents, we can. Need startup legal counsel? We’ve got the answers. Are you interested in pursuing a lawsuit? We go the extra mile — which is why we win.
More trade libel example lawsuits? Head over here.
We came across this old, unpublished blog post. The doctor defamation case discussed within is old, but the information regarding professional defamation is solid. If you’re a medical professional looking to pursue a slander or libel lawsuit, get in touch here.
After bribing a senator, a California hospital executive filed a defamation lawsuit against detractors. Does he have a chance at winning a slander suit, despite his already spoiled reputation?
Can a “discredited” hospital executive save his reputation via a defamation lawsuit? Dr. Michael Drobot hopes so, but slander and libel laws may prevent it. Below, we’ll review the case and examine some legal concepts germane to professional doctor defamation lawsuits.
Defamation Case Study: Guilty Doctor v. Opposition Attorneys
Ousted CEO of the now defunct Pacific Hospital of Long Beach (“PHLB”) Dr. Michael Drobot filed a defamation claim against a group of lawyers who’d successfully pinned him for fraud. No stranger to controversy, Drobot recently pleaded guilty to bribing state Sen. Ron Calderon and maintaining a “kickback” scheme during his tenure as PHLB’s top executive.
But this defamation lawsuit is not about the bribes or kickbacks, it’s about surgery screws used at PHLB. Apparently, during the course of Drobot’s fraud case, opposing lawyers said he authorized the use of “counterfeit” medical equipment, thus jeopardizing the well-being of hundreds of patients.
Since opposing lawyers first lobbed the “counterfeit screw” accusations, malpractice lawsuits have piled on Drobot’s doorstep.
How is Drobot battling back? By filing a defamation lawsuit.
Legal Considerations: Harm & Substantive Truth
This case raises a pair of pertinent questions regarding slander and libel law:
- What must a plaintiff prove to win a defamation lawsuit?
- If someone’s reputation is already in shambles, can he or she still win a defamation of character lawsuit?
Dr. Drobot’s Main Argument In His Doctor Defamation Lawsuit
Dr. Drobot’s main argument is straightforward: Counterfeit screws were never used at the Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.
His lawsuit claim is precise on the issue, reading:
“[Drobot] never purchased or used any ‘counterfeit’ screws or related parts for use in (Pacific Hospital) spinal surgeries.”
When asked about the lawsuit by a reporter, Drobot elaborated:
“Not only do they portray me as someone I am not, but they needlessly create incredible anxiety for hundreds of former patients at Pacific Hospital,” he said. “We did not compromise patient care at (Pacific Hospital).”
OK, so, for argument’s sake, let’s take Dr. Drobot at his word and, for the purposes of this analysis, assume that he’s telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
But is the truth enough to win this defamation lawsuit? Well, maybe not. Let’s break it down.
The four pillars of United States defamation law are:
- Publication (Broadcast);
- Harm; and
In other words, doctors can’t win slander or libel lawsuits if they can’t prove that the defendants:
- Aren’t lying;
- Didn’t publicly distribute the materials in question;
- Didn’t cause material or reputational harm (via the statements); and
- Didn’t realize that what they were saying was inaccurate.
In the case of Dr. Drobot, proving harm and negligence may be difficult because:
- His professional reputation has already been soiled; and
- The lawyers may have sufficient evidence to prove that they thought their statements were accurate. That’s the interesting crux of U.S. defamation law: if a defendant believes his or her statements – and can provide enough evidence of proper due diligence – even if the statement is wrong, the defendant can win.
Harm and previously Spoiled Reputations
Sometimes plaintiffs lose defamation lawsuits because their reputations are already tarnished coming into the lawsuit. For example, will you harm the reputation of a convicted murder by inaccurately reporting that he also robbed a store?
In this instance, Dr. Drobot has already admitted to bribery. His reputation has already been soiled. So, he may have a difficult time proving harm. However, since the statements under review have nothing to do with his efficacy as a medical professional, a judge may decide that his spoiled reputation as a government bribe-giver has nothing to do with the accusation of using “counterfeit” materials.
Dr. Drobot may also have to argue, nuance-by-nuance, the issue of negligence. Remember, the defendants are a group of attorneys, which means they probably have considerable evidence to support their assertions. Now, could the attorneys’ information be wrong? Absolutely. But remember, negligence isn’t necessarily about inaccuracies as it is intent and belief.
Defamation & Substantive Truth: Little Mistakes Don’t Qualify
It’s rare to win a defamation lawsuit over a small error.
Dr. Doe operates on seven people who die; a reporter says Dr. Doe had eight people pass away on his operating table. In this instance, Dr. Doe wouldn’t win a defamation lawsuit against the reporter because the minor error of eight instead of seven does not change the overall impression of the reporter’s statement. In essence, it’s not a “game changer.” The reporter’s piece was “substantially true,” thus inoculating the author from a defamation lawsuit loss.
However, Dr. Drobot’s case is not as straightforward. If Dr. D’s doctor defamation legal team tries to structure its entire argument on the contextual validity of “counterfeit,” the defense lawyers can use a “substantial truth” argument if – and this is a big IF – there’s proof that the screws were, at worst sub-par, at best, improperly (but benignly) represented to patients.
Speak With Lawyer Well-Versed In Doctor Defamation Cases
Kelly / Warner has successfully assisted professionals overcome various reputation challenges. Call or message today to start solving.
- Summary of a major difference between United States and Canadian online defamation law;
- Summary of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which confers immunity for third-party defamation to website operators; and
- Contact information for lawyer who’s successfully dealt with cross-border Internet defamation issues.
Canadian and U.S. Defamation Law: Polar Opposites?
People credit the U.S. for having the most defendant-friendly slander and libel laws in the English-speaking world, whereas Canada’s defamation laws are sometimes described as the most plaintiff-friendly.
But other differences distinguish the neighboring nations’ take on slander and libel – especially when it comes to Internet defamation.
Online Defamation Lawsuit Case Study: Suck Site Target v. Hosting Company
Canadian Andy Lehrer filed a small claims motion in Ontario against hosting company EasyDNS. Why? An adversary of Andy’s had created a disparaging website about Andy. EasyDNS happened to host the website. Even though EasyDNS had nothing to do with the creation of the “suck site,” and asked the company to take it down.
EasyDNS didn’t comply.
Instead, EasyDNS explained to Lehrer that, in this instance, without a court order, they wouldn’t take it down. After all, it’s not a hosting company’s responsibility to determine what is and isn’t libel.
So, what did Lehrer do in response to EasyDNS’ refusal? He added more “counts” to his nebulous defamation lawsuit. That’s right. Because EasyDNS posted a blog entry about the lawsuit, Lehrer is arguing that doing so is not only illegal, but punitively egregious. (For this tactic to work, there would have to be publicly withheld facts that make a huge difference in the case.)
Section 230 of the CDA: The Big Difference Between United States and Canadian Defamation Law
In the U.S., this online defamation lawsuit wouldn’t make it past round one. Why? Section 230 of the CDA.
Legalese and limited exceptions aside, Section 230 of the CDA states that website operators cannot be held responsible for libelous third-party content. To wit, Section 230 is why Facebook and GoDaddy aren’t successfully sued for every act of online defamation committed by users, on their respective platforms.
Difference Between United States and Canadian Law Means EasyDNS Will Go To Court;Wouldn’t Happen In The U.S.
Since a Canadian court is handling this case, EasyDNS must expend time and resources explaining the obvious to a judge: EasyDNS is not the content author or editor and shouldn’t be held responsible for defamation.
To be clear: It’ll be shocking if a Canadian court sides with Andy and saddles EasyDNS with damages for not taking down the anti-Lehrer website. Canada and U.S. law books may not be doppelgangers, but it’s not North Korea above the 41st parallel. Canadians care about free speech as much as Americans.
What is different, though, is that EasyDNS has to expend significant resources to quash a clearly frivolous case. In the United States, this online defamation lawsuit wouldn’t have passed the proverbial bouncer.
Consult An Internet Defamation Lawyer
Kelly / Warner is a law firm that handles international and online defamation issues. We have assisted many a Canadian—and hosting company — with their cross-border slander and libel challenges. If you’ve got a defamation question or issue, get in touch today.