We get a lot of recommendations by word of mouth, from friends, family, and Yelp. These can also be legitimate sources for warnings about stores, restaurants, even doctors to avoid. But what about handing out “Malpractice Alert” flyers to strangers in a doctor’s parking lot and sending the flyer to doctors, their families, and their neighbors? A little over the top?
Not according to the Arizona Court of Appeals, who recently held that an injunction barring a disgruntled patient from complaining about his treatment was overbroad and unconstitutional.
Medical Negligence Awareness
The dispute stemmed from a shoulder surgery gone wrong. LeRoy Visor was operated on by Dr. Matthew Hansen and assistant Geoffrey Streeter. After suffering from increasing pain following the surgery, Visor underwent a second procedure by another surgeon. Visor and his wife Sharon threatened to sue for medical malpractice and to “alert various media sources of this malpractice.”
Then the Visors ramped up their campaign against the physicians:
After sending their demand letter, the Visors prepared two flyers titled “Malpractice Alert” and “Medical Negligence Awareness.” Both flyers stated detailed allegations against Hansen and Streeter regarding LeRoy Visor’s care and treatment. The Visors sent flyers to Hansen’s and Streeter’s homes and places of business, as well as to Streeter’s neighbors and parents. Sharon Visor also handed flyers to people visiting Hansen’s and Streeter’s offices and placed flyers on vehicles in the parking lot.
A Taste of Their Own Medicine
Hansen and Streeter fought back though, and obtained injunctions against the Visors prohibiting future harassment, barring the Visors contacting the physicians or visiting their homes or workplaces.
The injunctions prohibited distributing any more flyers, forbidding the Visors from “mak[ing], post[ing] or distribut[ing] comments, letters, faxes, flyers or emails regarding [Hansen or Streeter] to the public (including but not limited to [Hansen’s and Streeter’s] family, neighbors, workplaces or colleagues) without agreement of the parties or permission of the court.
An Injunction Too Far
The restriction on the Visors’ free speech rights didn’t stand for long, however. The Court of Appeals overturned the injunctions, noting that such prior restraint is “the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” The injunctions were overbroad, according to the court, because they “sweep far beyond communications with particular individuals and instead enjoin any public speech about Hansen and Streeter, including for instance internet reviews (even wholly truthful ones) expressing dissatisfaction with treatment or even complaints to regulatory bodies.”
So, feel free to complain about your doctor online, or in flyer form. It may not be the best way to convince them to compensate you for injury, but it’s not illegal. A better bet, if you’ve been injured by a physician or medical procedure, is to contact an experienced injury attorney about your claim.
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