Litigation as a Weapon Against Online Reviews

July 8, 2010

With the news that a California plastic surgeon is suing to stop some online critics of her work comes a renewed debate on the value of online reviews of doctors.

With the news that a California plastic surgeon is suing to stop some online critics of her work comes a renewed debate on the value of online reviews of doctors.

According to the Contra Costa Times, Dr. Kimberly Henry has filed suit in a California Superior Court, seeking injunctions against 12 online reviewers on sites that include Yelp.com and DoctorScorecard.com. Henry’s attorney says the posts expose his client to “hatred, contempt and obloquy,” regarding treatments they claim to have received from the plastic surgeon.

The doctor, her attorney contends, has suffered “loss of her reputation, shame, mortification, and hurt feelings all to her general damage,” the article states regarding the suit, which seeks a total of $2 million for damages.

With the advent of social media has come the double-sided coin of posting comments.

On one side, the main users of social media put more stock in what their online friends think versus just choosing their parents’ doctor, insurance agent, mechanic, etc. They are relying in greater number on thread discussions, rankings and other ways to “grade” the professional they seek and the Internet gives them the ability to do it anywhere at any time for people around the country.

From colleges to collagen (in Dr. Henry’s case), information is a click away.

On the other side of the coin are the comments themselves: often anonymous, often unverified as to their accuracy. You or I can claim to be anyone, with any level of experience and post our thoughts on anything. We live in the WikiVerse now, you know.

That is why, in part, this blog requires that you register with us before weighing in on a topic.

So back to Henry’s suit. Such a step is not unprecedented, nor are the sites ranking anyone from your potential physician to likely lawnmower. AngiesList.com has faced a number of lawsuits from companies upset with customer reviews that are easily accessible at the click of a mouse and widely advertised in the provider’s ads.

Several states have laws regarding what are now known as SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) lawsuits, aimed at censoring the very content Henry is targeting. Some states allow the suits, others do not.

So the question is: What’s worse? Having no control over customer reviews or calling attention to negative ones through a lawsuit? Which is more damaging to a reputation and, ultimately, your bottom line?

Have you encountered a negative review of your work or your practice? What steps, if any, did you take?