Trashed on the Internet: What Should You Do?

Gail Garfinkel Weiss, BBA, MSW

Disclosures

January 04, 2010

In This Article

One Doctor's Sad Experience

Schoppmann relates the story of a physician client, Dr. A, who was the target of escalating Internet attacks initiated by a patient who had, according to Schoppmann, "extremely high and unrealistic expectations." What began as negative comments on medical blog sites morphed into extremely harsh reviews on ranking sites -- yet the physician took no action.

Next, the patient launched his own Website -- exclusively for the purpose of disparaging Dr. A. Faced with an increasing number of patients inquiring about the site, and a significant downturn in new patients, Dr. A finally took legal action.

"Initial efforts to bring the site down were unsuccessful as the site had been established through a series of companies from around the world," says Schoppmann. As the efforts went from China to Australia, the site kept gaining the attention of not only prospective patients, but also former patients who now had a vehicle by which to post their newly discovered complaints.

Through the Website, this group conspired to develop new ways to harm Dr. A: consulting with attorneys to file a class action lawsuit, and complaining to the state licensing authority and the physician's professional specialty association.

A court eventually ordered that the site be taken down, but the resulting investigations continue to this day and the cost to Dr. A is nearing $250,000 -- not taking into account the loss of income and the damage to his reputation.

In Schoppmann's words, "The lesson here is to first seek the removal of the offensive Internet materials, along with search engine caches, as a civil action can be costly and time-consuming. But when Internet posts rise to the level of defamation, act sooner rather than later."

Domingo Rivera agrees, and points out that many states have limitations of 1-3 years regarding when lawsuits can be filed; in the case of defamatory Internet posts, the clock starts ticking the day the post is made.

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