NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Manhattan woman has found herself in a world of legal troubles after posting a bad review of a local doctor online.
Michelle Levine tells CBS2 she’s already spent close to $20,000 fighting the million-dollar suit which accuses her of defamation, libel, and causing emotional distress.
The plaintiff is Dr. Joon Song, a gynecologist Levine says she visited once in August for an annual exam.
“After I got a bill for an ultrasound and a new patient visit, whatever that means, and it was not billed as an annual I wrote a review about it,” she told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner.
She says she complained to the doctor’s office, but nothing happened. The lengthy critical review, among other things, complained of “very poor and crooked” business practices and was posted on sites like Yelp, Zocdoc, and Healthgrades.
“And I gave them one star on Facebook, which they also put in their complaint,” Levine said.
After getting sued, Levine says she took down all her reviews but Dr. Song still wants her to pay around $1 million in damages plus legal fees.
“It’s been kind of a nightmare,” the defendant said. “I just have this doctor that’s been suing me for a Yelp review and he won’t go away.”
Dr. Song wouldn’t go on camera to discuss the suit, but his attorney sent a statement to CBS2 saying in part: “While everyone is entitled to their opinion, outright lies masquerading as reviews can inflict serious damage to a medical practice or small business.”
Legal experts say it’s important to choose your words carefully when reviewing a business online.
“Truth is an absolute defense,” attorney Steve Hyman said. “If you do that and don’t make a broader conclusion that they’re running a scam factory then you can write a truthful review that ‘I had a bad time with this doctor’.”
Other experts say it’s important not to make broad generalizations.
“If you’re going to make a factual assertion, be able to back that up and prove that fact,” Evan Mascagni from the Public Participation Project said.
Levine says despite the legal headache, she doesn’t regret writing her review and will continue to fight to the end if she has to.
A spokesperson for Yelp tells CBS2 New York needs stronger legislation to protect reviewers from lawsuits, but in general it encourages businesses to resolve issues directly with consumers instead of resorting to litigation.