Should You Be Able to Trash-Talk Your Dentist on Yelp?
There's an interesting case in the news today involving New York dentist Stacy Makhnevich, who is facing a class-action lawsuit from Robert Lee, a former patient. Makhnevich, who calls herself "the Classical Singer Dentist of New York," treated Lee for a toothache, but not before he signed a contract promising not to say anything bad about her online -- he claims he was in such pain he signed it in "a situation of duress" to get the treatment. Later, however, after he says she overcharged him $4,000, sent his records to the wrong insurance company, and refused to provide copies of records so he could submit them himself, he shared that wrongdoing on various sites, including Yelp. Makhnevich turned around and accused Lee of breaching the contract he'd signed and threatened to sue him.
Paul Alan Levy, Lee's lawyer, writes, "Makhnevich threatened to sue him over the posts, and sent DMCA takedowns, but no doubt to her surprise, not only did the patient not remove his comments, but both Yelp and DoctorBase defied the threat of infringement liability, telling Makhnevich that they regarded her agreement with the patient as illegal. Undeterred, Makhnevich sent Lee invoices purporting to bill him $100 per day for the continued copyright infringement."
Here are what appear to be Lee's comments on Yelp:
It's worth noting that there are some good reviews of Makhnevich, as well, and many of the negative ones involve this recent situation.
Levy is asking that Makhnevich's contract be declared "unethical, invalid, and illegal." Meanwhile, the company that designed the contract, Medical Justice Services, is advising dentists and doctors not to try to keep their patients from making negative comments about them online, and says that form has been now "retired."
According to MSNBC,
In Lee's case, the contract not only demanded that he not post negative comments, it included a clause that said Makhnevich owned the copyright to any critical posts.
Yowch. More negative than a negative online comment is a dentist so thin-skinned that she tries to keep people from saying anything bad about her -- and if they do, that she OWNS that. And, yeah, we think that patients should be able to criticize their doctors as much as they like in an online forum, and that doctors should be able to comment back. Isn't that what the Internet was made for?
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