Doctor Suing Patients Over Negative Yelp Reviews

Dr. Jay Pensler, a plastic surgeon in Chicago, isn’t happy with services such as Yelp. The doctor, unhappy about negative reviews his former patients posted on Yelp and Citysearch, is suing at least three of them for defamation. In court papers, Pensler, who calls himself a “well respected plastic surgeon,” says the women have “embarked on a malicious campaign to undermine and destroy” his personal reputation.

On the review sites, many women claiming to be former patients offered descriptive and disturbing accounts of their encounters with the Chicago surgeon. “The end result after my surgery was that I had Frankenstein breasts with the nipples placed too high,” one woman writing under the name “rinasa” posted on Citysearch in June 2009. “A year after my surgery I asked around, did research and interviewed 4 other plastic surgeons for revision surgery because there was no way I was going to let Pensler butcher me again.”

On Yelp, another woman said her breasts looked like something out of a horror film. “I have very dark, discolored scars ALL OVER MY BREAST………literally,” a woman wrote under the name “Melissa H” in August. “My breast doesn’t even look like breast anymore, it’s just that scary!!!! And my areolas look like a drawstring purse.”

One of the women’s lawyers feels that the suits will be dismissed, but not until after each woman racks up thousands’ of dollars in legal fees. The good doctor and his legal team swear that photographic evidence has been doctored somehow and cannot possibly be true. According to Fox News, he was able to uncover their identities by having a subpoena served on the review sites, forcing them to turn over IP addresses and other identifying information.

What do you think? Should anyone be “able” to sue another person due to a bad review left on a site such as Yelp?

12 thoughts on “Doctor Suing Patients Over Negative Yelp Reviews”

  1. Laws on libel and slander should apply to the newer forms of communication. If all of the elements of those actions are present, the injured party should have recourse against the person making the allegations. That said — The truth has been held to be an absolute defense.

  2. Surely anybody is entitled to an opinion, especially if a company’s services are not up to scratch? Isn’t that what they call free speech?

  3. Reviews are what make it possible for consumers to determine whether a product or service is good or bad. Review sites are a cheap and easy way for everyday people to make these reviews. If people sue those reviewing their products or services because they wrote a negative review then review sites will disappear due to fear of litigation. So no, suing people for reviews isn’t a good thing.

    What the doctor is displaying in this case is his fear of competition. He fears that because he isn’t as good a doctor as others in the market, that potential customers will not give him business any more. By suing these people he is using the power of the state to kill competition. Unfortunately, he isn’t the only one guilty of this behaviour.

  4. Do we apparently no longer have free speech? If the surgeon did such a bad job that his customer described her breasts as frankenstein breasts, shouldn’t she be able to tell people about it? Don’t you just love our country and our obsessive need too sue for everything?

  5. These issues are going to be arising more and more as people start taking the internet more seriously. Bad reviews on yelp and other sites can really damage a person’s reputation. But where do you draw the line between freedom of expression and defamation of a person’s character? There are not laws in place for this yet, there are no rules that have been clearly established. I know that there are tons of really bad surgeons that really have ruined people’s body and there are also nasty people who leave really unfair and really nasty reviews at a whim and from the comfort of their home without thinking twice about it. Who knows what is really fair? I dont.

  6. Doctors can pay lawyers. The rest of us are kept gagged because we cannot afford lawyers. Doctors should be rated like anyone else. If the info is true then it should be given a place to voice the issues. I say if the doctor loses the suit then he can pay for their lawyers also. Not to mention drum him out of the business before he harms anyone else.

  7. No one deserves to be sued for stating their opinion. Everyone has the right to their opinion, so these women should be a loud to voice their concerns about what was a poor surgery.

  8. “Minnesota high court says online post legally protected”

    By STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press

    MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man’s online post calling a doctor “a real tool” is protected speech, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The state’s highest court dismissed a case by Duluth neurologist David McKee, who took offense when a patient’s son posted critical remarks about him on rate-your-doctor websites. Those remarks included a claim that a nurse called the doctor “a real tool,” slang
    for stupid or foolish.

    The decision reversed a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision that would have let the doctor’s lawsuit proceed to trial.

    The opinion, written by Justice Alan Page, said the comments posted by Dennis Laurion don’t add up to defamation because they’re opinions that are entitled to free speech protections.

    “Referring to someone as `a real tool’ falls into the category of pure opinion because the term `real tool’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false. … We conclude that it is an opinion amounting to `mere vituperation and abuse’ or `rhetorical hyperbole’ that cannot be the basis for a defamation action,” the justices said.

    The ruling also said it doesn’t matter whether the unnamed nurse actually exists. McKee’s attorney argued that Laurion might have fabricated the nurse, something Laurion’s attorney denied. And it said the doctor’s objections to Laurion’s other comments also failed the required legal tests.

    The case highlighted the tension that sometimes develops on ratings sites, such as Yelp and Angie’s List, when the free speech rights of patients clash with the rights of doctors, lawyers and other professionals to protect their good names.

    Experts say lawsuits over negative professional reviews are relatively uncommon and rarely succeed, partly because the law favors freedom of speech.

    This dispute was over how McKee treated Laurion’s father, who had suffered a stroke, during a single hospital visit in 2010 that lasted 10 to 15 minutes. Laurion expressed his dismay in several online posts with what he considered the doctor’s insensitive manner.

    “I’m sure he and his family are
    very happy with this result,” Laurion’s attorney, John Kelly, said.
    “It’s been a long and difficult process for them.”

    McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, said he and McKee plan no further appeals and that they were disappointed with the ruling. “We feel it gives individuals undue license to make disparaging and derogatory statements about these people, particularly doctors and other licensed professionals, on the Internet without much recourse,” Tanick said.

    While the decision is not binding in other states, Kelly and Tanick agreed that it might influence how other courts would rule on similar questions. Kelly said lawyers often look at rulings from other jurisdictions when they put cases together, sometimes for leads or guidance.

    “Certainly this is a cutting edge issue and I’m sure lawyers and courts in other jurisdictions will pay attention to this decision and give it the weight it deserves,” Tanick said.

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