The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out the case of a Duluth doctor who sued after a patient’s son called him “a real tool” on a rate-your-doctor website.
In the court ruling, the justices noted that there was no proof that six comments made by the son were false or harmful to the neurologist’s reputation.
The unanimous opinion reversed an earlier Appeals Court decision and effectively rejects the lawsuit of Dr. David McKee, who had been in a two-year legal battle with Dennis Laurion. McKee had alleged defamation and claimed the comments interfered with his business.
Observers said the case presented an interesting battle between free speech rights and the rights of workers to protect their professional reputations.
Laurion had been upset with McKee’s bedside manner as he was treating his father after a hemorrhagic stroke in April 2010. Among the comments that Laurion posted to an online doctor review site was the assertion by a nurse friend of his that “Dr. McKee is a real tool!”
The court ruled that comment was protected by the First Amendment: “Referring to someone as ‘a real tool’ falls into the category of pure opinion because the term ‘real tool’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false.”
Laurion told the Duluth News Tribune, “The initial excitement has not worn off. I’m very gratified it’s all over.”