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Healthcare Practitioner Suits for Internet Defamation

The electronic era has added a new dimension to potential defamation claims. It provides a means by which average individuals can share their views, positive and negative, to a mass audience. In recent years, professionals from a wide variety of areas ranging from general contractors to physicians have seen their clients/patients post a plethora of web based reviews, ratings, and comments concerning their experiences with professional services. These internet commentaries can be positive as well as negative. You are the Director of Risk Management at the Setonia Health Care System. One of your attending physicians, Dr. Jekyl, recently brought to your attention multiple postings by Hilda Hyde, a former surgical patient at Setonia Hospital who was dissatisfied with her care and treatment by both Dr. Jekyl and all nurses assigned to her case. Dr. Jekyl is well known by staff and administration for having a caustic personality. In any event, he is irate by the comments and wants to know if he and the hospital have a basis to sue Ms. Hyde for defamation.
The allegedly defamatory statements include the following: a.) A personal blog in which Ms. Hyde posted several comments regarding her “horrible experience” at Setonia Hospital, where she was “left to languish” for days in her hospital bed with “barely a visit from any medical personnel.” b.) Comments posted to 3 “rate/review your doctor” websites in which she described Dr. Jekyl as “the worst doctor on the planet,” noting that he “did not know the difference between a scalpel and a butter knife.” She also rated him a 0 out of 5 stars, and posted that she “doubted he even had a medical license.” She also described him as “a sadistic, nasty man who should never have gone to medical school.” Finally, she posted that Dr. Jekyl “did a lousy job on removing her appendix and her scar is dark brown, bumpy, disfiguring, and makes her feel too self-conscious to ever wear a 2 piece bathing suit again.” c.) Comments posted on her blog and on a “rate/review your hospital” website in which she described Setonia hospital as “ a sewer filled with dirt and filth,” and the “worst hospital she has ever seen.” She also complained that the “food was completely inedible,” and the nurses who attended to her care were “ignorant, unfriendly, poorly trained, and ditsy.”
Please write a memo to your Board of Directors containing your recommendations as to whether Dr. Jekyl and/or Setonia Hospital have a viable claim for defamation against Ms. Hyde. Your memo should include a summary of any relevant law as described in the readings and/or other primary sources, application of that law to the facts at issue, and your recommendation as to whether a lawsuit, even if viablique, is in the hospital’s best interest.

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