Defamation via Twitter? Doctor Files A $1 Million Suit In Oregon

physician legal

By Joy Tu, VP Medical Justice

A Lake Oswego doctor has filed what appears to be the first Twitter-based defamation suit in Oregon.

Dr. Jerry Darm is suing Portland blogger Tiffany Craig for $1 million, alleging she damaged his reputation with “false, defamatory and malicious” statements made online, according to a complaint filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

The case stems from commentary Craig posted on Twitter and on her blog, Criminallyvulgar, where the 31-year-old IT worker writes about everything from the recent passing of former governor and senator Mark Hatfield to computer technology, gaming, the treatment of women in comics and her large collection of shoes.

From the news story:

Craig said she was watching the 6 o’clock news one evening in late June when she saw one of Darm’s television commercials. The doctor advertises his business, Aesthetic Medicine, widely and appears regularly on local talk show segments to give advice on dealing with wrinkles and other skin and body issues, hair removal, leg veins and weight loss.

“Through idle curiosity I Googled him just to see what he was all about,” Craig said. “I found pretty much the same information as the television advertising. … It got me thinking about how you would find information about doctors or other medical professionals if you wanted, without the advertising.”

Later, she posted on Twitter that “a little bit of research into @drdarm revealed a pretty nasty complaint filed against him for attempting to trade treatment for sex in 2001.”

In a blog entry that followed, she mentioned the TV commercial, criticizing the ad’s “results may vary” disclaimer:

“Seen that around? Sure you have,” Craig wrote. “If you watch television in Portland Dr. Darm is ubiquitous. Especially on those local channels that show endless reruns of Two and a Half Men. He wants to fix you up good and spend thousands on cosmetic procedures that will get funneled straight into his Lake Oswego home.”

“What he should have added with his Results May Vary disclaimer is Dr. Darm Handed Over His Medical License Due To Disciplinary Action.”

In 2001, the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners reprimanded Darm for “an inappropriate boundary violation” after a patient complained he offered to accept intimate physical contact as payment for after-hours laser treatment of “spider” veins.

Darm also faced discipline in California and in Washington based on the situation in Oregon, where the state medical board required him to complete educational courses about doctor-patient boundaries and risk management and prohibited him from treating adult women without a chaperone. Those restrictions were removed from Darm’s license in 2009.

Darm’s attorney declined to comment on the case but Craig’s attorney, Linda Williams, has filed a special motion to strike Darm’s complaint under Oregon’s anti-SLAPP statutes, which aim to prevent any “strategic lawsuit against public participation” on the grounds of free speech.

This procedural protection allows a defendant to request review of a speech-based lawsuit early in the process so the court can consider whether there is any probability the plaintiff can prove the case, Williams said. “If there is not,” she said, “the court can dismiss the case.”

The protection applies to speech in a public forum on topics of public interest.

Williams contends that Craig’s comments – speech made in the public forum of the Internet – were opinions based on facts in publicly available documents. A hearing on the motion is set for later this month.

Quoted from the Lake Oswego Review story: Defamation in 140 characters or less

Of course this is a non-starter as a complaint and Dr. Jerry Garm is shooting himself in the foot. Instead of quitely asking Craig to remove her tweet (being read by probably 5 or 10 people), Dr. Garm now has made everyone aware of his previous issues and has many more people aware of his "inappropriate boundary violation" issue. Not the kind of thing that gets you ahead and certainly a suit that he can't win.

About: Joy Tu is the Vice President of Strategy & Business Development for Medical Justice, a company that protects physicians from frivolous lawsuits.

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