“I own your criticism”: How one dentist tried to stifle defamation by patients

Dentist And Patient

July 30, 2013

In 2010, Robert Lee went to see Dr. Stacy Makhnevich for the first time because he was experiencing serious tooth pain. Before Dr. Makhnevich treated him, she had him sign a “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy” contract (created by a company called Medical Justice), which promised to close HIPAA loopholes if Lee promised to refrain from saying anything bad about Makhnevich online. According toArs Technica, the contract specifically said that the patient should “not denigrate, defame, disparage, or cast aspersions upon the Dentist.”

Managing online reputation for dentists
Online surveys play an increasing role in obtaining dental patient reviews

Of course, one can’t be stopped from writing a review on Yelp – that’s what it’s there for. Customer reviews are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. However, any review a customer has written, according to the contract Lee signed, is owned by the dentist. Section 230 has nothing to do with intellectual property laws, and Yelp does have to act on copyright infringement.

These details were probably unclear to Lee, who wrote “Avoid at all cost!” in his Yelp review, continuing with “Scamming their customers! Overcharged me by about $4000 for what should have been only a couple-hundred dollar procedure.”

Medical Justice out
In September 2011, Dr. Makhnevich’s staff sent takedown notices to Yelp and DoctorBase, as well as invoices to Lee, saying he owed the dentist $100 a day for copyright infringement. He was also sent letters saying that the dentist would pursue legal action against him, but the day after Dr. Makhnevich filed the lawsuit, Medical Justice “retired” the contract, leaving Dr. Makhnevich to handle this case alone.

Makhnevich out
The case isn’t going anywhere now, it seems. Dr. Makhnevich’s lawyers can’t find her and haven’t spoken to her in three months – and that communication was done through her assistant. Her lawyers are now withdrawing from the case.

Lee’s lawyer, Paul Levy, is trying to get the money back that Lee was overcharged and inform Dr. Makhnevich’s patients that the contracts they signed don’t actually mean anything.

“We brought this lawsuit to make sure she stopped and to point out to other dentists that they couldn’t do this,” Levy told Ars Technica. “We thought Medical Justice would step in to defend her. Instead, they walked away from it and left her holding the bag. And now she’s left her lawyers holding the bag.”

Lauren Burns is the editor of Proofs magazine and the email newsletters RDH Graduate and Proofs. She is currently based out of New York City. Follow her on Twitter: @ellekeid.

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