A recipe for disaster: Patient’s son complains about a doctor’s bedside manner online. Doctor sues patient’s family for defamation. And nobody wins.
Dr. David McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, Duluth, Minnesota, filed a lawsuit against Dennis Laurion, alleging he had made untrue and defamatory statements about the doctor’s treatment of Laurion’s father.
Laurion had filed complaints about McKee with several organizations, including St. Luke’s Hospital, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee, the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, as well as other local health care professionals. The complaints were lodged with a total of 19 different agencies, regulatory bodies and health-related websites. McKee claimed that many of the comments were made by Laurion using false names, or attributing the complaints to third-parties.
Laurion’s complaints about McKee included that he:
- acted angry after Laurion’s father was transferred from intensive care to another unit
- told the family that he had to spend time finding out if Laurion’s father had been transferred or died
- said 44% of hemorrhagic stroke victims die within 30 days, and
- was unconcerned that the patient’s gown at one point was hanging in such a way that his rear was exposed.
In his response to the suit, Laurion claimed the statements were true, and therefore, not defamatory.
A judge tossed the case, saying there wasn’t enough objective information available to ask a jury to weigh whether the accusations were defamatory. He noted that while the issues raised were driven by emotion, patients and their families are entitled to take to the web and other media to air their complaints.
At the time of publication, McKee said he hadn’t decided if he would appeal.