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Is Online Assertion that Doc Is ‘a Real Tool’ Protected Opinion? Minn. Top Court Mulls the Issue

Posted Sep 5, 2012 8:31 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An assertion that a Duluth neurologist is “a real tool” is at the center of a defamation battle pending before Minnesota Supreme Court.

Dennis Laurion criticized Dr. David McKee’s bedside manner on several doctor-rating websites, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. McKee had treated Laurion’s elderly father after a stroke, and Laurion perceived the doctor as insensitive. "When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, 'Dr. McKee is a real tool!' " Laurion wrote.

McKee’s lawyer, Marshall Tanick, told the justices his client's defamation suit should be allowed to go to trial, the story says. Tanick argued before the court on Tuesday that Laurion made up the “tool” quote, just as he made up part of the encounter with McKee. Laurion’s online reviews went beyond opinion, Tanick said.

Laurion’s lawyer, John Kelly, countered that people “ought to have a degree of latitude in expressing their opinion." He said the word "tool" is no worse than "calling someone an idiot or a fool."

Hat tip to Pat’s Papers.

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