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Taking care with medical negligence allegations: how true is your Google review?

Just like many other online customers, medical patients often like to leave reviews on Google about their customer experience with a particular medical practitioner. However, while Google reviews can be useful for other customers when deciding whether to use that doctor, a recent decision handed down by the New South Wales Supreme Court has highlighted the importance of being factually correct in the reviews that you leave and falsely alleging medical negligence.

In the case of Tavakoli v Imisides (No 4) [2019] NSWSC 717, Cynthia Imisides left a Google review in September 2017 about her experience with her plastic surgeon, Kourosh Tavakoli. Ms Imisides claimed that Dr Tavakoli had charged her for a medical procedure that he did not perform, and that he acted improperly and incompetently in relation to the procedure.

According to the judgment, Ms Imisides published a Google review which the “ordinary reasonable reader would accept that the following imputations arose:

  • Dr Tavakoli was an incompetent plastic surgeon, in that the rhinoplasty he performed on the first defendant was unsuccessful;
  • Dr Tavakoli was cruel in his dealings as a doctor, in that he does not provide assistance to his patients who are unhappy with their results post-surgery; and
  • Dr Tavakoli was a bully in that he intimidates patients that raise a legitimate complaint about his work by using his lawyers to threaten them.”

However, “those allegations have been shown to be plainly untrue,” ruled the NSW Supreme Court Justice Rothman in handing down his judgment. Justice Rothman ruled that these imputations were extremely serious and thus defamatory as the reviews tended to lower Dr Tavakoli’s reputation as a surgeon in the minds of “right-thinking” ordinary members of the community.[1]

The court also heard from Tavakoli’s Webmaster that there had been a “significant decline” in the rate of visitors to Tavakoli’s practice website, which had dropped by nearly 25 per cent in the week following Ms Imisides’ review.

The court also drew the inference that, at the time that the statements made in the first Google review were published, Ms Imisides knew them to be untrue, and were made for the purpose of harming Dr Tavakoli and the publication was actuated by that purpose, and thus malice was established and injurious falsehood also proved.[2] This was further evinced by the fact that Dr Tavakoli’s lawyers had written to Ms Imisides requesting that she take the review down, to which she responded, “Piss off. I don’t have any money to give you greedy people.”

Ms Imisides was ordered to pay over $500,000 to Dr Tavakoli for defaming him and causing injurious falsehood, as well as requiring her to pay the surgeon’s legal fees.

This case reinforces the need to ensure you get your facts right before posting anything online, and to ensure you leave a review that is sincere. While Tavakoli v Imisides was certainly not a case of medical negligence, if you believe that you have a case for medical negligence, it is worth speaking to a lawyer instead of posting an online review about that doctor and your experience, as evidently the consequences can be damaging for all involved.

Everyone has the right to expect professionalism and care from their healthcare provider. If you believe you’ve been injured by a medical professional, you might be entitled to claim for compensation for your injuries. Suffering medical negligence can be extremely distressing. It is not unusual for patients to have difficulty identifying an injury caused by their medical or other health care provider, particularly if their treatment has been complex and involved long periods of hospitalisation. Often what patients articulate is a “sense of wrongness” about their treatment.

If you believe that your medical treatment has compromised or significantly impacted the outcome that you expected, have suffered that “sense of wrongness” or believe that you have been injured by your health care provider, we may be able to help.

Generally, health care in Australia is usually of a high standard, however, sometimes things go wrong. Failure to provide reasonable medical care to a patient is called medical negligence. It may be as a result of the conduct of a doctor, hospital or other health professional. This area of law can be complex and difficult to navigate, so if you believe you may have a claim, you should contact one of our expert lawyers today on 1800 21 22 23.

To read the full judgment of Tavakoli v Imisides (No 4) [2019] NSWSC 717, click here.

[1] Gardiner v John Fairfax & Sons (1942) 42 SR (NSW) 171; Mirror Newspapers Ltd v World Hosts Pty Ltd (1979) 141 CLR 632; [1979] HCA 3.

[2] Tavakoli v Imisides (No 4) [2019] NSWSC 717 [50]-[53]

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