Plastic Surgeon Wins Half Million Dollars Award after Patient Defames Him Online
Dr. Kenneth Hughes is no stranger to patient defamation. In our society, defamation and anonymity of the web have allowed extortionists and con-artists to thrive. Dr. Kenneth Hughes has won several lawsuits regarding the bad behavior of patients and doctors alike.
This is a widespread phenomenon and these things occur at an alarming rate all over the world. The following is an excerpt about a plastic surgeon in Australia who was defamed by a patient in relentless fashion. Ultimately, the physician prevailed.
A Sydney plastic surgeon has been awarded $450,000 in damages for defamation after the Federal Court found he was the target of a tirade of online abuse by a woman on whom he decided not to operate.
Justice Michael Wigney said the “sustained, far-reaching and virulent” campaign waged by former patient Catherine Cruse against Dr Warwick Nettle had caused “extreme” damage to his reputation and was “full of falsehoods [and] gross misrepresentations”.
Dr Warwick Nettle was awarded $450,000 in damages after he was defamed by a woman who ran an online smear campaign against him.
It included a series of three online reviews, taken from a wider sample, and a website that included photos of “botched” surgeries falsely attributed to Dr Nettle.
Dr Nettle made that decision after a doctor who had previously treated Ms Cruse contacted him and cautioned him about operating on her.
While Ms Cruse did not put her name to the publications, Justice Wigney said it could be “inferred from the evidence as a whole” that she was responsible, including from the fact that “some of the false names or monikers are fairly thinly disguised variations of Ms Cruse’s name or initials”.
He said the stress and anxiety of the smear campaign prompted Dr Nettle to pay $3000 to Ms Cruse in early 2018 in return for her agreement not to disparage him.
Justice Wigney said Dr Nettle’s “personal and professional reputation prior to the publications was impeccable” and “he had a particular reputation for being an ethical and careful plastic surgeon”.
There was evidence that his workload declined significantly after the publications, and his “Google rating” dropped from the top rating of five stars to 3.5 stars in July 2018.
Justice Wigney said Dr Nettle suffered “emotional trauma” as a result of the smear campaign and “the situation was made much worse by the fact that, such were the nature of the publications, Dr Nettle worried, with some justification, about the safety of his staff and family”.
He said that this was a case warranting the award of aggravated damages, which meant the usual cap on damages for non-economic loss in defamation cases, now set at $432,500 but adjusted annually for inflation, did not apply. He awarded damages of $450,000 and ordered Ms Cruse to pay Dr Nettle’s legal costs.
Justice Wigney also made an order restraining Ms Cruse from repeating the defamatory claims.
Ms Cruse was unable to be located during the proceedings, Justice Wigney said, and she had “effectively disappeared.” This is likely to pose an obstacle to the recovery of damages.