Surgery Defamation: Can Doctors Sue Patients Over Online Reviews?

plastic surgery defamation
Let’s talk about defamation and plastic surgeons.

Let’s talk about plastic surgery defamation for a few.

You’re a plastic surgeon who recently operated on a woman named Cruella. Faithful to her name, Cruella likes to complain – even when there’s nothing to criticize! And sure enough, Cruella didn’t like your work, (she wanted to look exactly like Angelina Jolie, gosh darn it!) and decided to take her exaggerated gripes online.

Can you sue her for online defamation? What are your chances of success? Let’s explore these questions.

What happens if a patient leaves a scathing online review about your plastic surgery practice?

Statements posted online are fair game for defamation lawsuits. Just because something doesn’t appear in a mainstream media outlet doesn’t mean it can’t be the subject of a libel claim. So yes, you’re absolutely entitled to pursue a defamation lawsuit against a patient who pens a scathing missive on an online review website – like Yelp! or Ripoff Report.

That said, it’s important to understand the difference between defamation and a negative opinion.

A verifiable false statement of fact
A subjective assessment

What is the likelihood of a doctor winning a plastic surgery defamation case against a disgruntled patient?

A plastic surgeon’s chance of winning a defamation lawsuit against a patient has everything to do with the facts of the case. Where most plastic surgeons go wrong is deciding to sue over a negative opinion, instead of a false statement of fact.

Remember, legally speaking, defamation is a lie – not a nasty opinion.

Here’s a quick checklist of what plastic surgeons need to prove in order to win an online defamation:

  1. That you were the subject of the reviewer’s post;
  2. That the post contained a false statement of fact that caused professional harm;
  3. That the defendant negligently or purposefully posted the offending statements.

Plastic Surgery Defamation Case Study: Loftus v. Nazari – A Cautionary Tale For Plastic Surgeons

In 2006, Catherine Nazari walked into the office of Dr. Jean Loftus. She wanted a breast lift, implants, a double arm lift and a “tummy tuck.” Surgery eventually ensued, but Nazari wasn’t happy with the results. In 2010, the disgruntled plastic surgery patient started posting negative comments on several doctor review websites.

A sampling of her disparaging comments:

“only to be left with permanent nerve damage in both arms (arm lift) severe abdominal pain (tummy tuck) horrible scars and disfigured in both breast [sic] (breast implants, breast lift)as [sic] a result of her mistakes. As a result of the surgeries preformed [sic] by Dr. Loftus I was left having to file for Total Disability.”I had plastic surgery due too [sic] losing a lot of weight and was not happy with the sagging skin I was left with. I thought that if I had the surgery It would raise my self confiedence [sic] and improve my appearance. If I could go back in time, I would not have done it. I had breast implants and a Breast lift and was left with horrible scars and disfigurement, a tummy tuck that left me with severe abdominal pain that is still present today, I had arm [sic] lift in both arms that caused permanent nerve damage in both arms and there [sic] nothing that a consumer can do. All of my surgeries were preformed [sic] the same day by a Dr. Jean Loftus in Ft. Wright, KY. 99% of all medical malpractice cases never make it to a hearing, let alone a trial. I have filed complaints with the US Attorney in Washington, DC and they referred me to the Ohio Medical Board to file a complaint. I also filed a lawsuit with Bob Handleman in Columbus, OH only to have nothing done and my case was dismissed without prejudice. On October 22, [*2] 2010 I received a letter from the Ohio Medical Board that NO disciplinary actions would be taken regarding Dr. Loftus. I guess it is true what Ralph Nader says on his site, that State Medical Boards are like FOXES GUARDING THE HENS. These doctors should be held accountable for their mistakes and not be covered medical records were stolen from a friend and colleague of hers, Dr. Rank O. Dawson a plastic surgeon of Cincinnati, OH.

Brutal, right? But believe it or not, the judge ruled that the overwrought missives aren’t defamatory because a “reasonable person” would probably question Nazari’s rants — due to their overt emotionality. Moreover, since the statements appeared on an “opinion website,” the judge opined that it would be “the natural tendency…to infer that they are opinion.”

If Defendants Believe Their Statements Are Truthful, And Can Prove Proper Research, They Can Escape A Defamation Verdict

In most circumstances, if defamation defendants believe their statements to be truthful, and can prove that they engaged in proper fact checking, the defendant will win. In this case, the judge ruled that the defendant genuinely believed her statements to be true, which worked in her favor.

In Loftus v. Nazari, the defendant’s free speech rights trumped the plastic surgeons – and since the Nazari truly believed her statement, it wasn’t deemed defamatory.

Not All Defamation Lawsuits Are Created Equal. Just Because One Person Ducked Damages, Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Have A Viable Case

Does this mean you shouldn’t pursue an online defamation case? Absolutely not. Many plastic surgeons do win – or at the very least succeed in getting disparaging material removed from the Internet.

Do you have a plastic surgery defamation problem? Get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law, today.