Melbourne dentist awarded $170,000 after being defamed by patient in Google reviews

A Melbourne dentist has been awarded a staggering $170,000 following defamation proceedings against a former patient who posted a one-star Google review.

Specialist periodontist, Dr Allison Dean, was awarded aggravated damages and all her legal costs by the County Court of Victoria. This case demonstrates the Court’s recognition of the impact of detrimental social media reviews, as well as the importance to monitor online reviews efficiently and effectively.

Dean v Puleio [2021] VCC 848 (12 July 2021)

The plaintiff alleged that her former patient, Ms Puleio, defamed her in four Google Reviews about Dr Dean’s business, Kew Periodontics and Dental Implants.

Statements on the dentist’s Google MyBusiness listing were published under various names accusing Dr Dean of being unprofessional, undermining and failing to diagnose various illnesses from which Ms Puleio claimed to be suffering from.

After Ms Puleio filed her defence denying the defamatory imputations, she took no further part in the proceedings and did not make or accept a settlement offer. She also refused to participate in a mediation. Such non-compliance with court orders found the plantiff’s application to have the defence struck out successful.

Dr Dean gave evidence that it was Ms Puleio’s intention “to cause as much damage as possible when writing these publications”. This was stated in the court’s judgement as having a “particularly egregious effect” both on Dr Dean’s reputation as an established dentist and her emotional wellbeing.

Justice Julie Clayton accepted that the defamatory statements were widespread and “seen by around 100,000 people”. It was further accepted that the reviews had a “grapevine effect”, meaning that the statements had far-reaching ramifications beyond those who saw the posts directly.

With regard to all the circumstances surrounding the case, an award of damages amounting $170,000 was granted to Dr Dean plus legal costs.

What does this mean for businesses?

This case highlights the significant impact online reviews can have on your business. Whilst positive reviews may help your business’ reachability and build rapport with customers, it is imperative to monitor and respond to negative reviews efficiently to prevent damage from potentially defamatory publications.

Elit Lawyers by McGirr & Snell has over 60 years defamation experience acting on behalf of individual plaintiffs including high profile executives, parliamentarians, sporting and public figures and companies in respect of publications published in both electronic and traditional media forums.

Do not hesitate to contact Danielle Snell and/or Robert McGirr in relation to any defamation concerns.

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