Supreme Court considering case of Duluth doc who sued after reviewer called him "a real tool"

Dr. McKee claims a negative online review of his work constitutes defamation.
Dr. McKee claims a negative online review of his work constitutes defamation.
Image by Tatiana Craine -- Dr. McKee picture from Quora

Two years ago, Dennis Laurion, upset about the way his stroke-afflicted father was treated by Duluth neurologist Dr. David McKee, took to a rate-your-doctor website to express his displeasure.

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"When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, 'Dr. McKee is a real tool!'" Laurion wrote. Dr. McKee later sued for $50,000 in damages, alleging that Laurion's review defamed him. In April 2011, a district judge threw out McKee's suit, but in January, an appeals court overruled the district court and green-lighted the defamation case. Now, the status of Dr. McKee's lawsuit is being considered by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which is expected to issue its ruling sometime during the next few months.

From the Jewish World Review:

In his online postings, Dennis Laurion wrote that McKee "seemed upset" because he thought his father, then 84, was still in intensive care.

"Never having met my father or his family, Dr. McKee said, 'When you weren't in the ICU, I had to spend time finding out if you transferred or died,'" according to Laurion's account. "When we gaped at him, he said, 'Well, 44 percent of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option.'"

Laurion, who was visiting with his wife and mother, wrote that McKee was brusque and dismissive during the exam, especially when his father raised concerns that his hospital gown was hanging open at the back. "Dr. McKee said, 'That doesn't matter,'" according to Laurion's account. "My wife said, 'It matters to us,'" and they left the room.

McKee claims he spent more than $7,000 to "scrub" more than 100 negative comments about his work, many of them originating from a single IP address in Duluth, the Review reports.

The Duluth News Tribune places Dr. McKee's case in its broader context:

McKee's case highlights the tension that sometimes develops on websites such as Yelp and Angie's List when the free speech rights of patients and their families clash with the rights of doctors, lawyers and other professionals to protect their names.

"Patients now have power to affect their businesses in ways they never had," said Eric Goldman, a professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law who studies the issue. Health care providers are "evolving how to deal with patient feedback, but they're still in the process of learning how to do that."

Most online reviews never provoke any response. And successful challenges to negative reviews are rare. Americans are legally entitled to express opinions, as long as they don't knowingly make false statements.

But if the two sides contest basic facts, disputes can swiftly escalate.

For what it's worth, Dr. McKee has received mixed reviews on, though some of the negative reviewers cite his court case as a reason they dislike his work.

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