Claiming Defamation Against a Professional

Many people these days have tendency to lash out at people they do not like on the Internet because they want to tell the world they have been wronged. Defamation can happen at work, and can come from anyone such as a co-worker or client.  Defamation can be emotionally distressing and there have been reported suicides relating to online criticisms. With Internet sites offering comment and rating sections for people to discuss professionals, such as doctors, the ability to go off on a bad experience can be tempting, especially when sites let people hide their identities.

It took three years of financial and emotional turmoil for an oral and maxillofacial physician to win a defamation action against a patient who commented about the surgeon’s performance on the Internet.  The physician was awarded a $12 million defamation verdict in his favor in December 2011.  The lawsuit was a lesson to those to criticize people on the Internet.

The defamation victory for the doctor occurred when an appeals court ruled that a neurologist may file suit against a former patient’s son for defamation, reversing a dismissal by a trial court.  Sometimes defamation cases may be hard to win because the defendants attempt to argue First Amendment free speech rights, and the plaintiff may have to go through subpoenas with Internet providers to find out the identities of the posters.

According to American Medical News, the ruling for the surgeon may help people in the workplace become more confident in combatting negative Internet feedback. Many professionals such as doctors believe constraint is the better course to take because they have professional obligations like patient confidentiality requirements to not say anything about their relationships with patients.  A winning defamation case gives people hope that there is a change in attitude by courts over what the First Amendment protects, and may prevent wrongful deaths when the victims of defamation get so tormented that they kill themselves for lack of reasons to live.

Though, Medscape Today warns professionals that filing a lawsuit for defamation remains a costly and risky undertaking. For example, a plastic surgeon’s status as a “limited-purpose public figure” caused a court to dismiss his lawsuit against an individual who created a website criticizing the physician and his services. According to a news article, the physician ended up doling out around six figures to bring the case, plus pay the patient’s legal fees, while the website stayed online and continued to generate bad publicity.

Defamation generally comes up when someone writes or says something negative about another individual. Defamation statutes usually require (1) a defamatory statement, (2) of or concerning the plaintiff, (3) published to a third party, and (4) damages to the plaintiff’s reputation. Damages are presumed if the statement is libel, such as an Internet post. Otherwise, the plaintiff must prove actual economic damages.

Contact an experienced personal injury attorney if you have a workplace tort claim.