Appeals Court Says Yes to Dentist Lawsuit Against Patient for Online Review

court of appeals rules on negative online reviewsA new ruling by the 6th District Court of Appeals in California allows a dentist’s defamation lawsuit to move forward against a former patient who posted negative review of the doctor on Yelp.

In the same ruling, the court also concluded that the popular consumer review site Yelp is protected under the anti-SLAPP law, and Yelp can recover legal fees stemming from the doctor also suing Yelp over the same negative review.

Let the legal wrangling begin . . .

As reported in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, the courtroom drama began back in 2009, when Yvonne Wong, a pediatric dentist from Foster City, California decided to sue Tai Jing and Jia Ma, who are parents of a boy she treated. The parents, unhappy with Sr. Wong’s treatment of their son allegedly posted a negative review about the doctor on the online review website Yelp.

The parent’s biting online review of Dr. Wong centered around the use of silver filings and laughing gas on their son, but the parents also wrote that Dr. Wong never warned that their son’s filing material could contain mercury and that other patients should “avoid her like a disease!”

Yelp gets involved . . .

After denying the parent’s claim Dr. Wong sued both the parents along with Yelp for what she felt was defamation of her character. She also wanted Yelp to remove the negative review.

She ultimately ended up withdrawing her lawsuit against Yelp after discovering that Yelp is protected under the Communications Decency Act, which bans recovery against websites for publishing third-party content.

Defendants Tai Jing and Jia Ma’s initial motion to strike down the dentist’s lawsuit was only successful in that the court allowed the case against Jia Ma to be dismissed, but ruled that Dr. Wong’s libel claim against Tai Jing could move forward.

Burden of proof on dentist . . .

The appellate court’s decision is important because it defines that the burden of proof in a defamation case and will set the tone for future lawsuits over negative online reviews. The burden of proof does not fall to the individuals accused of posting an online review to prove that they had not done so, but instead falls with the the plaintiff to prove who posted the review.

Some feel the doctor over-reacted and the publicity surrounding the lawsuit will be bad for her dental business, while others feel consumers need to stick to the facts and consider their words when posting a negative online review.

If you were Dr. Wong, how would you have handled an online review you felt was libelous? Is it bad PR for a dentist to sue a former patient over a negative online review?

For more information regarding this lawsuit, see How accurate is your Yelp review? and Court of Appeal Allows Dentist’s Libel Claim Based on Yelp Review.

About Jim Du Molin

+Jim Du Molin is a leading Internet marketing expert for dentists in North America. He has helped hundreds of doctors make more money in their practices using his proven Internet marketing techniques.


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