Sunday, September 23, 2012

What would Bitcher and Prickman say?

Richard Prickman
Beatrice Bitcher

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post, "Prickman explains defamation!"

The Supreme Court hearing was covered by the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Can you tag your doctor a 'tool' online? - Maura Lerner 612-673-7384). Here are come excerpts from the article:

A State Supreme Court case is testing the boundaries of website reviews. Is it defamatory to call a doctor a "real tool' or to claim a nurse described a doctor that way? The Minnesota Supreme Court wrestled with those questions on Tuesday as the Justices heard arguments in a case about what is or isn't fair game on the internet.

Two years ago a Duluth neurologist Dr. David McKee sued the son of an elderly patient for defamation over some negative comments that were posted on rate-your-doctor websites. On Tuesday the State's top court was asked to decide whether the lawsuit should finally go to trial after the case was thrown out by a lower court and reinstated on appeal. The lawsuit is one of a growing number of legal battles testing the limits of free speech on the internet.

A good portion of the oral arguments were devoted to the meaning of the words that Dennis Laurion, 65, used to describe his family's encounter with McKee in April 2010 when Laurion's father Kenneth then 84 was hospitalized with a stroke. After McKee examined his father Laurion complained about the doctor's bedside manner on several websites. "When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse she said, Dr. McKee is a real tool" he wrote.

John Kelly, Laurion's attorney noted that internet sites are a "free for all" for people to share opinions and and that his client's comments were perfectly appropriate. "We have a word, the word is tool" Kelly told the Justices. "When you look at the word you have to ask, is it defamatory?" He argued that the phrase while it is clearly not a compliment is no worse than calling someone an idiot or fool.

During questioning some of the Justices seemed to agree. "Saying someone's a real tool sounds more like an opinion than a statement of fact" Justice Christopher Dietzen said.

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea has a similar reaction. "The point of the post is this doctor did not treat my father well," she said. "I can't grasp why that wouldn't be protected opinion."

But McKee's lawyer, Marshall Tanick, argued that Laurion had gone beyond opinion making up statements that were untrue. He noted that Laurion had never been able to identify the nurse who allegedly called McKee a tool. "There was no nurse" Tanick said. "He made it up." He also accused Laurion of putting words in McKee's mouthy that made him look insensitive and not caring.

See the whole article:
See the comments:

Dear Anonymous:

Thank you very much for keeping CyberSmokeBlog's readership apprised of this case. In litigation that probably should have been resolved with an apolog(ies) and simple handshake years ago CSB can only imagine what Bitcher & Prickman would say if they were involved.

Clare L. Pieuk


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