Doctor v. Doctor Defamation: Malpractice Lawsuit Leads To Job Insecurity

doctor v. doctor defamation case study
Many doctor v. doctor defamation lawsuits arise from malpractice lawsuits.

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:

  1. About them;
  2. Verifiable false statements of fact; and
  3. Materially injurious to the plaintiffs’ reputations or businesses;

In addition, defamation plaintiffs must prove that the defendants:

  1. Published or broadcast the statements; and
  2. Acted either negligently or with actual malice, in distributing the material;

In this case, Dr. Gillis must prove that:

  1. Dr. Ramdev made false statements of fact about Dr. Gillis;
  2. Ramdev’s statement resulted in material harm for Gillis; and
  3. 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

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.

Negligence

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.

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Trade Libel Example: Parigi v. Puma Lawsuit

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Summary of an unfair competition lawsuit involving trade secret and trade libel claims.

In This Blog Post:

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.

Pick up the phone or shoot us a message. Let’s start solving your Internet and business law needs.

More trade libel example lawsuits? Head over here.

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Doctor Throws Hail Mary Lawsuit To Salvage Reputation

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.

doctor-defamation-case-study-1

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:

  • Falsity;
  • Publication (Broadcast);
  • Harm; and
  • Negligence.

In other words, doctors can’t win slander or libel lawsuits if they can’t prove that the defendants:

  1. Aren’t lying;
  2. Didn’t publicly distribute the materials in question;
  3. Didn’t cause material or reputational harm (via the statements); and
  4. Didn’t realize that what they were saying was inaccurate.

In the case of Dr. Drobot, proving harm and negligence may be difficult because:

  1. His professional reputation has already been soiled; and
  2. 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.

Negligence

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.

Hypothetical Example:

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.

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A Difference between United States and Canadian Defamation Law

difference between united states and Canadian defamation lawIn This Post:

Canadian and U.S. Defamation Law: Polar Opposites?

What’s the difference between U.S. and Canadian defamation law?

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.

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Professional Defamation Case Study: Mogul v. Mogul

professional defamation case study
A judge tossed a professional defamation lawsuit between two moguls.
In This Article You’ll Find:

  • Explanation of a professional defamation lawsuit between two high-profile moguls;
  • Explanation of what one must prove to win a slander or libel lawsuit; and
  • Contact information for a defamation lawyer.

Casino mogul Steve Wynn lost round one of his professional defamation lawsuit against financier James “Jim” Chanos. Wynn has till January 15, 2015 to appeal – and according to all reports, he plans to do just that.

The Wynn v. Chanos slander lawsuit is a good one to review because it touches on the important crux of American defamation case law – the all-mighty First Amendment.

Why Did Wynn Sue Chanos For Professional Defamation?

At A Lecture: “The SEC investigated Wynn.”

A lecture circuit veteran, earlier in the year, Chanos gave a talk at the University of California at Berkley. During the event, Chanos mentioned a since abandoned federal investigation of Wynn’s operation for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Ultimately, the investigation went nowhere, as officials didn’t find “reliable evidence of FCPA violations.”

At the Berkley lecture, Chanos did note that the SEC’s investigation didn’t illuminate any evidence against Wynn Resorts Ltd and related parties.

Wynn Filed Lawsuit

Regardless, Wynn wasn’t pleased with Chanos’ lecture – and opinions therein; so, in September 2014, the casino king filed a professional defamation lawsuit against the money man.

But it doesn’t look like Wynn will win this slander case.

Judge Sides With Chanos Because Wynn Made Too Big Of A Leap

District Judge William Orrick explained his ruling in favor of Chanos thusly:

“It takes a significant inferential leap to conclude that Chanos’s general uncertainty about the questionable business methods in Macau equates to an assertion that Wynn violated the FCPA.”

Did Judge Orrick slyly and subtly insinuate: “doth protest too much, maybe, Mr. Wynn?”

No False Statement of Fact

The most important thing to remember about professional defamation law in the US: In order to win, your claim must be centered on a false statement of fact, not an opinion nor speculation. If it were against the law to speculate about businesses, politics or people, the news and entertainment industries would be forced closed by way of excessive litigation.

Defamation law in the U.S. is defendant-friendly: In 98% of cases, to win, a plaintiff must prove the defendant made an unprivileged, false statement of fact. Negative opinions or critiques do not a valid defamation case make.

What must a plaintiff prove to win a defamation of character lawsuit in the United States?

Generally speaking, in every U.S. jurisdiction, in order to win a defamation of character lawsuit – whether personal or professional – the plaintiff must prove, at the very least, that the defendant:

  • Published, broadcast or otherwise distributed the false statement of fact;
  • Was talking about the plaintiff;
  • Through the statement, caused material harm to the plaintiff;
  • Acted with reckless disregard for the truth or actual malice.

Don’t be discouraged by America’s defendant-friendly defamation laws. Every year, many businesses and professionals win slander and libel lawsuits. Yes, free speech trumps an awful lot, but it doesn’t give anybody the right to spread lies about a person, place, organization or business.

If you’re the target of a highly inflammatory review, a ruined online reputation, or if you’re simply interested in getting content removed from the Internet, get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law.

Speak With An Attorney About Your Professional Defamation Situation

Our legal practice maintains a perfect rating on review website AVVO.com, in addition to a preeminent standing on venerated lawyer review service, Martindale-Hubbell. Since Kelly / Warner’s inception, our lawyers have focused on Internet libel issues. We know the niche well and have guided –step-by-step – hundreds of individuals and businesses to successful resolutions of their professional defamation hiccups.

Marketing Defamation: A New Type Of Online Business Libel

marketing defamation lawyer
A new marketing trade libel lawsuit may be one of the first of its kind.

Dust off your deerstalker and limber that legal mind — for a fascinating libel lawsuit is afoot! Video streaming company, FilmOn, is suing high-level Web analytics/Online Marketing firm, DoubleVerify, for what can only be described as “classification marketing defamation.”

FilmOn v. DoubleVerify presents a different type of libel – one singular to online marketing analysis. Plus, the case teases a new set of legal questions regarding the intersection of new-model media distribution, digital globalization and reputational torts.

The Two Sides of This Marketing Defamation Lawsuit: Filman & DoubleVerify

The Plaintiff: Filman

A decidedly 21st century venture, FilmOn deals in all things streaming. The company offers a plethora of packages ranging from global video-on-demand services to custom branded media players. According to Business Insider, “FilmOn provides hundreds of live TV channels and on-demand programming to the web, both for free and with some content behind a subscription.”

Judging from the website, it appears FilmOn doesn’t necessarily develop content, but instead provides private-label streaming — and more. For example, a convention may use FilmOn for customized video services; or, a business may order a bespoke media player.  Individual TV-streaming packages are also available. In essence, FilmOn isn’t necessarily a content creator, but instead a platform provider.

The Defendant: DoubleVerify

A high-level Web analytics firm, DoubleVerify promises clients “appropriate environments for [their] brands with real-time blocking controls.” In other words, they help you make sure your online advertisements appear in “apt” online neighborhoods.

For example, if a company is selling a family-friendly product, it probably doesn’t want to advertise on an “adult entertainment” website. DoubleVerify helps with that.

The Main Issue: Undesirable Classification

The issue anchoring FilmOn v. DoubleVerify is straightforward:

DoublVerify labeled FilmOn a “copyright violator” and “adult content distributor” in its advertising classification database.

As a result, many DoubleVerify brands opted not to have their ads appear on FilmOn’s website – which decimated the streaming company’s bottom line. After all, like many online-based businesses, Internet advertising dollars are a significant revenue stream for FilmOn.

We Are Not What You Say We Are

When FilmOn executives learned of their company’s classification in the DoubleVerify system, they contacted the analytics advertising firm, explained how their services worked, and cogently argued that, legally speaking, FilmOn is not a copyright violator, nor adult entertainment purveyor.

But their pleas failed; in the eyes of DoubleVerify, FilmOn remained an intellectual property infringing p-rn runner.

Unwilling to let the classification stand, the streaming media company filed a business lawsuit against the online marketing outfit.

What Makes The FilmOn v. DoubleVerify Business Defamation Lawsuit Interesting?

FilmOn v. DoubleVerify is worth mentioning because it speaks to the current state of the marketplace – the marketing-dependent state.

Think about it for a second: a giant chunk of the digital economy is fueled by marketing. If I were feeling cynical and extra get-off-my-lawn-y (which I’m not), I might remonstrate: “People used to make things that were then marketed, now we just market marketing!” Which is fine. The trend will continue the more digital we become. But the shift does present a new set of legal questions and implications.

The Shift To Big-Data Marketing: The Legal Implications

Will this tectonic shift to big-data marketing impact business law? Marketing defamation law?

Reputation classifications will become more popular, and lawsuits like FilmOn v. DoubleVerify will become the norm. Moving forward, businesses must be diligent about monitoring online reputations — not just online, but in brand databases.

Marketing, Subjectivity and Defamation Law

As the marketing industry metastasizes, questions regarding subjectivity, as it relates to defamation law, will come to the fore. Cloud- and platform-oriented services, as opposed to content-oriented services, will present new legal quandaries in the coming years. Will Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act suffice?

Soon, courts will need to establish case law addressing “classification marketing defamation” as a separate phenomenon.

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Gripe Site Cases: The Charles Schwab Defamation Lawsuit

Gripe Site Cases and Lawyer
Gripe sites can lead to defamation lawsuits. This is the story of one such case.

We like to talk about gripe site cases — and there’s a new one to dissect.

A dissatisfied business partner, in search of recompense, accuses a mogul’s son – by way of a few DIY websites – of cavorting with a convicted killer!? Nope, it’s not a Dick Wolf special – it’s a real case involving venerated financier, Charles Schwab, Charles’ son Michael and a former dictator’s criminally notorious son, Tommy Suharto.

The Players

Michael Schwab

  • Plaintiff
  • Former Business Partner of Nicholas Behunin
  • Son of Charles R. Schwab

Charles R. Schwab

  • Plaintiff
  • Renowned Finance Mogul
  • Father of Michael Schwab

Tommy Suharto

  • Third Party
  • Alleged Real Estate Swindler
  • Convicted Criminal Who Spent 4 Years In Prison

Nicholas Behunin

  • Defendant
  • Former Business Partner of Michael Schwab
  • Alleged “Anti-Schwab Website” Mastermind

Steiner & Libo

  • Defendant
  • Counsel for Nicholas Behunin
  • Alleged “Anti-Schwab Website” Enabler

The Story: What Led To The Schwab Defamation Lawsuit

Prologue

Our tale of online defamation woe tracks back to 2002. That year, an Indonesian court sentenced Tommy Suharto, the notorious son of Indonesian’s now-deceased second president, Suharto, to 15 years in prison. What crime? The younger Suharto hired henchmen to take out a Supreme Court judge, in broad daylight.

Suspiciously, Tommy was out of prison within four years.

Act 1: The Real Estate Deal between Schwab Son Michael & Nicholas Behunin

Sometime in 2009, son of legendary investor Charles Schwab, Michael Schwab, and businessman Nicholas Behunin shook hands on a Balinese real estate deal. The plan? Eco-friendly luxury resorts in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, the strategy went south, and the relationship ended acrimoniously.

Act 2: The Alleged Shakedown

Behunin felt Schwab and co. cheated, and he didn’t walk away quietly. Behunin demanded $25 million dollars for his troubles; Schwab refused. So, Behunin sued for the $25 million.

And it’s around this time when a handful of gripe site websites launched. Accusatory and satirical, several anti-Schwab blogs found their way online. They featured quips like “How to profit from a brutal dictator” and “Launder Money Overseas.” The so-called “suck sites” targeted Michael and Charles Schwab’s alleged relationship with Tommy Suharto – the Uday Hussein of Indonesian.

Act 3: The “Gripe Site” Defamation Lawsuit

As you may have already guessed, the Schwabs insist they’ve “never met” or engaged in any business dealings with any of the Suharto men. They also think Behunin is behind the accusatory websites. So, the First Family of investments filed a defamation of character lawsuit that is sure to go down in the annals of gripe site cases.

The lawsuit reads in part:

“The only reason to create these fraudulent websites was to besmirch the good name and reputation of Charles R. Schwab and his son Michael. Not one claim on the landing page of the site is true or correct and the guilty parties were aware of that prior to making the defamatory statements,”

“In sum, (Leonard) Steiner (Steiner & Libo and Nicholas Behunin) used the Websites as a tool for the extortion of Schwab.  The Website’s clear objective was, and is, to publicly embarrass and shame Schwab and then to leverage that public embarrassment into litigation advantage in Behunin’s lawsuit against Schwab.”

“The Defendants agreed to a scheme that included providing false and defamatory information to third parties who would post articles or blogs on the internet repeating the false and defamatory statements provided to them by Defendants…creating the impression that the false statements on the websites had been independently corroborated by the third-party posters,” according the lawsuit by Michael Schwab filed by his attorney David H. Schwartz.

The Masts of Defamation: What Plaintiffs Must Prove To Win Gripe Site Cases

Defamation is more than just a negative comment or a lie. To win slander and libel lawsuits, plaintiffs must satisfy the four masts of defamation: Publication, Falsity, Harm and Negligence.

Publication: Just as it sounds. The statements under review must have been published for public consumption – either in print or digitally – or spoken in a public forum.

Falsity: As the old saying goes, it isn’t defamation if it’s true.

Harm: The statements under review must have caused financial or materially reputational harm for the plaintiff. Hurt feelings don’t cut it.

Negligence: The great equalizer in defamation suits – intent and negligence. Believe it or not, if a defendant broadcasts a bold-faced lie about you, but genuinely believed in the validity of the information and can prove proper due diligence, then 8 times out of 10 a judge won’t hold the defendant liable. In cases where the plaintiff is a public figure, they have to meet the even higher standard of “actual malice” – a legal term meaning that a person knowingly prevaricates. (To learn more about actual malice, go here.)

Truth! The Pin on Which All Defamation Lawsuits Turn

If the Lance Armstrong scandal taught us one thing, it’s that all that glitters isn’t honestly gold. And I use Armstrong as an example because he won several defamation lawsuits against detractors who reported the truth.

It’s not pretty, but here’s the truth: In slander and libel lawsuits, the winner is the party with the most convincing evidence. If  defendants can prove their accusations are fair, they’ll walk away unscathed.

We’ve bookmarked this Schwab gripe site case – because it could get very interesting.

Gripe Site Case UPDATE: Behunin’s pushing back with an anti-SLAPP motion. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nicholas-behunin-files-anti-slapp-motion-against-charles-schwab-2014-12-17

If you’d like to read more about gripe site cases, head on over here. If you’d like to speak with an online defamation lawyer about a gripe site and “suck site” legal issue of your own, get in touch here.

Business Owners’ Guide to Defamation Lesson #1: Facebook Boycott Defamation

Facebook boycott defamation
What should business owners do about Facebook pages that are negatively targeting their companies?

Facebook boycott pages have the power to decimate bottom lines. A single social media profile can severely stall cash flow. Which raises the question: What are the legal options regarding negative Facebook press? Keep reading.

Case Study: Consumers Create A “Boycott” Page on Facebook

According to company president John Dowd, Sundance Vacations had been in business for twenty-three years – largely without issue. But in the 24th year, all bytes broke loose. A disgruntled client created a “Boycott Sundance Vacations” Facebook page.

Needless to say, Sundance experienced a Titanic-sized sinking. According to Dowd, the Facebook boycott page was “the single worse [sic] thing that’s happened to [Sundance].”

Due to the sharp, steep sales decline, precipitated by the disparaging profile, the travel company had to lay off over one-hundred employees.

Sundance eventually sued Facebook for defamation but lost. The social media platform won by arguing immunity under Section 230 of the CDA.

Can Business Owners Demand That Detractors Take Down A Facebook Boycott Page? Can The Page Creators Be Sued For Defamation?

Sundance’s failed Facebook defamation suit should not be a deterrent to businesses that want to pursue Internet defamation lawsuits. It can be done, and it has been done. But to increase the likelihood of success, its best to use an attorney well-versed in online libel litigation.

Someone Created A Facebook Boycott Page About Your Business? Follow These 3 Steps.

What should you do if disgruntled customers, patients or clients air their complaints online and create Facebook boycott pages about you or your business?

First: Stay calm. Don’t snap and start railing against your detractors. It’ll just make you look:

  1. Crazy,
  2. Unaccommodating, or
  3. Overly defensive (and therefore suspect).

Second: Private message the Facebook boycott page and try to resolve the issue amicably. Be accommodating, not imperious. Respectfully prostrate yourself. Ask what you can do to make things better. Don’t compromise your values, but be conciliatory — if possible.

Third: If your Facebook boycott detractors still refuse to negotiate a solution, then it’s time for legal action. Contact a Facebook defamation lawyer.

Elements of Defamation Under U.S. Law

But before you contact a lawyer, think about the validity of your case. Be honest with yourself. Are the Facebook boycotters telling the truth? Because if they are, their actions are not defamatory.

Defamation is more than just negative, disparaging talk. In order for a statement to be legally defamatory, the plaintiff must prove that:

  1. The defendant was the party that published or spoke the contentious statement(s);
  2. The contentious statement(s) were false, unprivileged and about the plaintiff;
  3. The plaintiff suffered either material or reputational harm as a result of the defendant’s statement;
  4. The defendant acted either negligently or “with actual malice.”

Remember these four defamation fundamentals if a Facebook boycott page targets your company. Remember, you will NOT win a defamation case just because someone said something negative about your operation. Negligence, harm and falsity must also be proven to emerge the winner in a defamation lawsuit.

Speak With Attorneys Who Have Dealt With Facebook Boycott Defamation

Kelly / Warner was one of the first law firms to focus on Internet-specific defamation. We have successfully counseled hundreds of businesses and individuals through all types of cyber libel litigation. An AV-rated law firm, Kelly / Warner enjoys a high success rate. We also maintain valuable connections that we are sometimes able to leverage on clients’ behalves – if appropriate.

Call or send a message today to begin a conversation about your Facebook boycott defamation challenge.

The Month In Defamation Law: Kesha, Bag Men & More!

Business Defamation: October 2014

TicketNetwork defamation lawsuit
TicketNetwork.com settled its defamation lawsuit days before going to trial.

TicketNetwork.com v. Performance Arts Venue

TicketNetwork.com and The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts were headed to trial. The latter had accused the former of:

  1. Gaming online ticket sales to extract more money from consumers, and
  2. Cheating venues by misrepresenting availability.

But the day before court, they reached a settlement. A confidential settlement, which stinks for us defamation lawsuit voyeurs.

Chinchilla Breeder v. PETA

PETA defamation lawsuit
A 90-year-old chinchilla breeder is going after PETA for defamation.

Nonagenarian chinchilla breeder Lurlie Adams filed a YouTube defamation lawsuit against PETA.

Case essentials:

  • Lurlie is 90 and her husband is 95.
  • Lurlie has been a California chinchilla breeder for over 40 years. She used to do it for fur, but had a change of heart (so she says) in the 80s and switched to pet breeding.
  • According to Lurlie, PETA orchestrated a deceptive interview at her farm, secretly taped it, and then spliced-and-diced the footage to make her look like an animal torturer.
  • Lurlie Adams is suing the animal rights group for $2 million and has declared herself, “ready for a fight.”
  • PETA insists Adams’ breeding stables contain a crude electrocution device that she still uses on chinchillas.

I’m not taking sides. But, mark my words: this defamation lawsuit will be greedily hogging headlines for months to come.

King of Torts off the Libel Hook

book defamation lawsuit
Author off the hook in a book defamation lawsuit.

In 2009, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Dawson co-wrote a book called “King of Torts.” A true crime tome, it recounted an undercover government investigation. In the book, Dawson characterized then FBI agent Philip Halbert Neilson as “untrustworthy” and “shifty.”

So, Neilson sued for defamation of character.

The trial court sided with author and defendant Dawson, but Neilson appealed.

Welp, the appeal ruling came down this month, and Neilson lost. Once again, the court stood with Dawson, reasoning:

“Dawson supported his motion for summary judgment with affidavits from himself, Greenlee and Hailman. In these separate affidavits, each man states the reason he thought Neilson was untrustworthy. These affidavits go into detail about Neilson’s past conduct and how that conduct resulted in Dawson, Greenlee and Hailman’s lack of confidence in Neilson.”

More Business Defamation News

Celebrity Defamation: October 2014

Rehabbed Pop Princess v. Ex Producer

Kesha defamation lawsuit
Kesha’s pre-rehab producer is suing the singer for defamation.

This month, pop princess Kesha lobbed abuse allegations at her former producer, Dr. Luke.

And when Kesha dropped the abuse bomb, Luke shot back with a defamation lawsuit. He also accused Kesha and co. of illegally worming their way out of a contract.

Curiously, in his filing, Dr. Luke doesn’t list specific “false and defamatory” statements uttered by Kesha. For the time being, he’s only asserting the generality of Kesha’s “false and defamatory” nature. Interestingly, his team seems to be pushing the contract extraction angle most.

Perhaps he’s holding cards close to his chest — for now. Who knows. But if he intends to win this defamation of character case, he’s going to have to get a lot more specific.

October Celebrity Defamation Shorts

Medical Defamation: October 2014

Doctor v. Doctor Defamation

doctor defamation lawsuit
Another doctor v. doctor defamation lawsuit landed in a court this month.

Two doctors are duking it out in a defamation lawsuit.

Doc A accused Doc B of letting an unqualified assistant finish a heart surgery. So, Doc B filed a defamation lawsuit against Doc A, arguing “total fabrication.”

What makes this doctor-on-doctor defamation lawsuit worth mentioning? The B-plot. According to Doc B, Doc A levied the accusation in a sly attempt to wrestle away an extracurricular contract. Escandalo!

More Medical Defamation News

Libel Littles: A Mish-Mash of Defamation Cases and News For October 2014

Speak with a defamation lawyer today!

The Month In Defamation: September 2014

The best defamation news and happenings for September 2014.

Jurisdiction Matters: The Case Of The British Doctor In Texas

Doctor defamation lawsuit in Texas
A Brit in Texas isn’t having much luck with a stateside defamation lawsuit.

In 1998, editors at The Lancet (a medical journal) published a controversial research paper penned by doctor-most-likely-to-be-quoted-by-Jenny-McCarthy, Dr. Andrew J. Wakefield. His conclusion: certain childhood vaccines may cause autism.

In 2011, the British Medical Journal published a paper debunking Wakefield’s research, in which the author characterized Wakefield’s work as “fraudulent” and a “fix.”

In response, Dr. Wakefield filed a libel lawsuit in Texas – his current place of residence.

But the trial judge dismissed the doctor’s libel claim over lack of jurisdiction. The bench reasoned that both parties were Brits and that the article wasn’t popular enough in Texas to affect Wakefield’s reputation.

Since then, Wakefield has been appealing up a storm. And this month, a third Texas court heard his case. Wakefield was denied, once again.

What’s a little odd about this lawsuit is that the U.K.’s defamation laws are more plaintiff-friendly than those in the United States – leaving us to wonder: why did he file stateside?

“Wild Thing” Goes For Defamation Score

baseball defamation lawsuit
A baseball defamation lawsuit is in the works — and an anchor is in the plaintiff seat.

Remember everybody: It’s not defamation if it’s true!

But it looks like Mitch “wild thing” Williams didn’t get the memo. The former MLB Network employee is suing Deadspin for defamation over an article about his less-than-sportsman-like conduct at a little league game.

Williams was eventually fired from his day job over the incident. So, he decided to file a wrongful termination suit against the MLB Network and an online libel suit against Deadspin.

The kink in his case is that he already apologized for his behavior at the game, which is the same as admitting he behaved as reported. And remember: it’s not defamation if it is true…..(well, most of the time).

State Farm Insurance Loses Again In 14.5M Defamation Suit

state farm defamation lawsuit
State Farm loses defamation lawsuit appeal.

For several years, State Farm Insurance has been on the losing end of a high-profile, high-dollar defamation lawsuit. A contractor sued the insurance company over accusations of fraud after a 2006 hail storm, which resulted in an onslaught of claims.

The case went to trial, and the contractor won $14.5 million – one of the largest defamation verdicts in U.S. history.

State Farm cut the check but is still trying to get its money back. In the latest attempt, the company tried to evoke a little-known civil law that allows judges to re-order a trial in an already decided case.

But it didn’t work. The appeals panel reasoned that State Farm had the “panoply of pretrial discovery devices” at their disposal from the beginning. Just because State Farm didn’t take advantage of the discovery process then, does not mean it should be able to fix its “mistake” now.

Obviously, the contractor is thrilled with the decision, but State  Farm has vowed to continue fighting the verdict.

Company Held Liable For Libel Over Employee Email

employee email business defamation
Businesses can be held liable for libel over an employee email.

Businesses aren’t responsible for defamation over something said in an employee e-mail, right? Wrong.

This month, a judge ruled that a medical business was legally liable for an unflattering email that an employee sent out about another employee.

Now, does this ruling mean that every business is responsible for every employee email? No. But since this email had to do with work, the company must take the fall.

Defamation, On Ice

johnny weir defamation lawsuit
(Photo Credit: Greg Hernandez via Wikipedia) Johnny Weir is embroiled in a celebrity defamation lawsuit.

In September, Bedazzled Ice Prince Johnny Weir’s estranged husband, Victor Weir-Voronov, dragged the former Olympian into court.

During the Sochi games, infamously out-going Weir took a break from his color commentating to trash-talk his man, on-air. Accusations of disease and “sexual misconduct” fell out of Johnny’s mouth during an Olympic broadcast.

Georgetown Law grad Weir-Voronov describes Johnny’s tirade as a “crusade of defamation.”

If this case makes it inside the courtroom, it’s sure to be an HLN/CrimeTime favorite. Why? Because Johnny is notoriously flamboyant and hyperbolic, which, theoretically, may just work in his favor here, since a statement must be believable for it to be defamatory.

What Are You Hiding, Feds?

U.S. Gov involved in private defamation lawsuit
The U.S. Government is involved in a private lawsuit — and its a little bit shady.

Hmmmm, what’s going on here. The U.S. Department of Justice is intervening – going so far as to exercise state secret privileges — in a private, overseas libel lawsuit between Greek mogul Victor Restis and the association United Against Nuclear Iran.

Speculation, of course, is rampant – but we’ll probably never learn the true answer. At least not anytime in the near – or medium-near – future.

Lifetime Movie Network’s Artistic License Is on Trial

Lifetime Movie defamation lawsuit
A Lifetime Movie is at the center of a slander lawsuit.

There’s acceptable artistic license, and then there’s egregious artistic license — and Ms. Daun Slagle insists that the Lifetime Network producers crossed the line in one of its made-for-TV movie masterpieces.

In the 1990s, Daun was a victim of serial killer Keith Jesperson. Luckily for Ms. Slagle, she escaped death at his hands.

Lifetime Network immortalized the travesty in the late-afternoon, basic-cable hit, Happy Face Killer, in which producer’s indulged in a little artistic license when it came to Slagle’s story. In the movie, Slagle is characterized as a “prostitute whore (TM real housewife)” who performs fellatio on Jesperson in front of her baby, and then falsely reports him in a rape-extortion scheme.

Slagle swears the portrayal is rubbish. So, she is suing for defamation.

My guess? Either a) Lifetime has proof that Slagle isn’t as angelic as she swears or b) a settlement will be reached soon, and Slagle will be living large from here on out.

Cole Porter, Local Politics & Online Defamation: What DOES It All Mean?

picture of the inside of the capitol building to represent political defamation
Another local level, political defamation lawsuit is afoot.

A politician who thinks AIDS is the result of man-monkey copulation is being sued for online defamation. Stacey Campfield is his name, and blogging about other officials is his game.

Back in 2008, in the heat of national elections, Tennessee state representative Campfield published a blog post accusing state house candidate Roger Byrge of having “multiple separate drug arrests.”

But Campfield got his facts wrong. Candidate Byrge was not the same person as drug user Byrge.

Unluckily for the incumbent, Campfield’s source swears he warned of the information’s murkiness.

At first, a judge dismissed the case, saying that he could “see how you could mess that up. It is what it is.” But the TN Court of Appeals did not agree, ruling that Byrge has every right to move forward with a defamation lawsuit – especially since Campfield was warned about the accusation’s truthiness.

Real Housewife Headed To Defamation Court, Courtesy of Ex-Beau

Camille Grammar Real Housewife Defamation Lawsuit
A Real Housewives Defamation Lawsuit Hit A California Court.

Last October, former Real Housewife of Beverly Hills, Camille Grammar, got into a physical fight with her then-boyfriend Dimitri Charalambopoulos. According to Camille, the altercation went down in a Texas hotel room soon after she had undergone cancer surgery.

When the news first hit, Camille’s rendition of events cast Dimitri as the bad guy. But he soon filed a defamation suit, insisting that Camille was spewing lies. His side of the story? Camille went housewife-crazy after seeing a text message from another woman on his phone.

Now Camille is trying to get his defamation case dismissed. Her main argument (condensed): She never actually said Dimitri’s name, so her comments weren’t defamatory. Will she win this dismissal? Probably not — but stranger things have happened.

Did The Delivery Woman Do It In The Driveway?

“Condensate from a vehicle is clear. This was definitely tinted yellow.”

That’s what one Mr. Michael Wilson said when a reporter asked him about an online defamation lawsuit filed against him by Shamrock Delivery, a FedEx contractor.

According to Wilson, several months back, a Shamrock delivery woman urinated on his driveway after delivering a package. He caught the incident on video and posted it to YouTube. It went viral – even made the news in some areas.

But the Shamrock driver insists that Wilson didn’t see pee; he saw leaked air-conditioning fluid that pooled while she was idling, trying to avoid a Rottweiler.

Drunk Driving Death Leads To Defamation Lawsuit

Augustine Bangura, a Pennsylvania resident, is suing several media outlets – including the AP, ABC, CBS and NBC — over reports of his 2013 car accident that resulted in a tragic death.

According to police, Bangura failed a field sobriety test, and the media reported so. But Bangura insists that the breathalyser must have malfunctioned because he was not under the influence at the time of his arrest. Bangura also insists that nobody read him Miranda rights.

Contrarily, law enforcement officials swear that Miranda rights were read and that Bangura’s memories are most definitely alcohol impaired.

If the police have proof that Bangura was over the legal limit, this case will be dismissed faster than a fiber connection.

Click here to read more about defamation laws in Pennsylvania.

Defamation Bout: Allred v. Mayweather?

Mayweather defamation lawsuit filed
Floyd Mayweather and Gloria Allred will duke it out in a defamation lawsuit.

OMG, y’all: a Gloria Allred v. Floyd Mayweather showdown is afoot!

The notoriously outspoken attorney is representing Mayweather’s former fiancé, Shantel Jackson, in a lawsuit against Mayweather. The accusations include assault, battery, invasion of privacy and defamation.

In terms of the libel charge, Jackson is upset that Mayweather accused her, on Facebook, of having an abortion.

September 2014 “Libel Littles”