The following can be found at:
The WWII Vet vs. The Doctor: A Case of Internet Defamation
There must be something in the air, because as of late, defamation lawsuits are popping up from sea to shining sea-online and off. Former Major League superstar, Roger Clemens, is embroiled in an upcoming defamation lawsuit, while online travel heavyweight, TripAdvisor.com, is staring down the barrel of a group action being pursued by hundreds of hotel vendors; and in Duluth, Minnesota, a doctor is suing his patient's son for-yep, you guessed it-spreading lies online.
In April of last year, World War II Veteran, Kenneth Laurion, was treated for a hemorrhagic stroke at St. Luke's Hospital by Dr. David McKee, a neurologist. During Mr. Laurion's time in the hospital, his family alleged that Dr. McKee's behavior was unacceptable. The Laurions insist that Dr. McKee's bedside manner was beyond reproach. The good doc, they claimed, lacked common sensitivity-in both actions and comments-towards patient Kenneth and the rest of the Laurion clan. Like many would today, Dennis Laurion, Kenneth's son, took to the Internet and made his displeasure with McKee known.
In June, Dr. McKee filed a defamation suit against Dennis. McKee's attorney, Marshall Tanick, called Laurion's alleged defamatory remarks, "weapons of mass destruction" (oh yes, he went there). Tanick continued by arguing, "The totality of statements made on these websites would be injurious to the reputation and standing of a doctor in the eyes of others who might see it, including patients or prospective patients, colleagues, peers, referral sources, and others."On February 8th, accompanied by his wife and father, Dennis Laurion found himself in the Sixth Judicial District Court. He explained how when he went to the Intensive care unit to check on his father, he overheard Dr. McKee quip, "I had to find out whether you had been transferred or died.
"In a deposition, McKee acknowledged that he had made the statement, but insists it was in good humor and intended to alleviate tension.
Dr. McKee is seeking excess of $50,000. The Laurions and their lawyer, John Kelly, are claiming that any statements made about the doctor were true, thereby rendering Dennis Laurion immune from any liability. In the eyes of Kelly, Laurion's comments were opinions that cannot be demonstrated to be false in court.
Eric Hylden, the presiding judge, announced that the suit was a "very interesting type of case." Later, Hylden implied that, Constitutionally, Dennis certainly has a right to an opinion but went on to question whether or not there is some limitation to what citizens can say in an online public forum.
Hylden has 90 days to mull over the issue before his summary judgment ruling is due. Between you, me and the lamppost, it certainly does seem like someone's itching to shake up laws which revolve around Internet defamation.
Thank you very much for writing with the link. Yes, we're aware of this case having posted a write up about it which appeared in Wisconsin's Superior Telegram sent to us by The Public Eye (www.accesstoinfo.blogspot.com; email@example.com). Mr. Populi himself a lawyer has firsthand experence with intellectual property law (i.e. defamation).
The problem lies with legislators who, pardon our Queen's English, need to get off their collective asses to change the laws. At least in the United States some jurisdictions have recognized the problem and passed anti-SLAPP statutes (e.g. Massachusetts, California) empowering judges to throw out these types of cases early on in the process. Compare Manitoba, and Canada for that matter, where no such provisions are on the books.
Here The Defamation Act is more than 25-years old. To the best of our knowledge it has yet to be revised to reflect the realities of 2011. Sadly, nothing is like to happen unless or until:
(1) someone with deep pockets successfully challenges The Act under The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Then legislators will have no choice but to make the court ordered changes
(2) a significant MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) gets SLAPPed so they can experience our defamation laws up close and personal
Consider the case of MMF et al vs. Terry Belhumeur et al. in which the Canadian and Manitoba taxpayer funded Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand and his Board of Directors sued this site's precursor CyberSmokeSignals for alleged defamation prosecuted by Winnipeg lawyer Murray Trachtenberg (Queen's Bench File Number CI 05-01-41955).
The genesis of this action dates back more than 8-years (Counselor Trachtenberg's file number is 2003-20) and we estimate has cost taxpayers a cool $250,000 in legal fees. For what? During that time he filed over 200 documents with the courts not to mention his correspondence ad nauseam. In all we figure well over 2,000 pages more than enough for 4-5 feature full-length novels. Problem is there's nothing in our province's laws to stop him or any other solicitor for that matter. Theoretically, he could have continued until the cows came home and beyond.
And people wonder why it currently takes over a year in Queen's Bench to get a trial date. Here's an image we found recently which perfectly describes the status of SLAPPs in Manitoba and Canada much better than we ever could.
Sincerely/Clare L. Pieuk