Doctor Sues Website For Defamation, After Being Convicted For Hitting Diver With His Boat

from the insult-to-injury? dept

A couple of years ago, there was a boating accident, in which a boat driven by Roger Nicosia, an emergency room physician, hit a diver in the water, Robert Murphy, leading Murphy to lose both his legs. In an ensuing lawsuit, Nicosia was found guilty of violating navigational rules, a second-degree misdemeanor, and sentenced to a small fine and six-months probation. Rather than moving on, Nicosia is fighting back against some of his online critics, as he's suing a bunch of them -- and a website they use -- for libel. The article does not indicate what statements were actually made, but a quick search on the website -- Spearboard.com -- turns up many forum posts about Dr. Nicosia, many of which include angry statements, some of which may be defamatory. What surprises me, however, is the decision to sue Spearboard.com. It would seem, as an open forum, that the site operator has pretty strong Section 230 defenses. That doesn't absolve the individuals' comments, if they are defamatory, but suing the site itself seems to be going a bit far. Separately, does this doctor really want to call more attention to himself and this whole situation?


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  1.  
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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 3:59am

    Roger Nicosia, meet my friend Streisand. :P

     

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  2.  
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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 4:00am

    Last Link

    The link that says 'quick search' does not work. The page says 'Sorry - no matches. Please try some different terms.'.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 5:20am

    Florida is really the last refuge of scoundrels.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 5:37am

    Just out of interest, has techdirt itself ever been sued specifically for doing this? Calling attention to potentially defamatory comments like this post does, I mean. I know you've been sued (or people have claimed they're going to) for other things.

     

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  5.  
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    Kenny, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 5:54am

    Threatened with legal action too?

    I run a site called The Weekly Gripe and as I'm sure you can imagine it's often quite controversial. Whilst I'm very careful with the article text on Gripes I publish sometimes the visitor comments, which are quite often negative about a company or individual, will get the site into a bit of trouble. It really irritates me though when something slips through the moderation process and the first thing you hear from a company is a threat to send in the lawyers. What ever happened to "please can you remove that post because it's defamatory?".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 6:17am

    Tune in next week for the new Doctor Sue!

     

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    average_joe (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 6:27am

    I haven't read the complaint, and I don't know exactly how these things work, but I can think of two reasons for suing the site. One reason to make the site a party to the suit would be because the site is the only party who could supply information to help identify the posters who made the allegedly defamatory postings. A subpoena could be used to get the same result, but that brings up the second reason--unless the site is a party to the suit, the court cannot order the site to remove the postings that are determined to be defamatory.

    Section 230 protects the site from liability, but does it also mean the site cannot be named as a party to the suit? If so, that seems to me to be a Catch-22. How else could you get the site to remove the offending material?

     

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    PB (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 6:37am

    Didn't know. now i do.

    Hi Dr Nicosia. Before you sued the site I had no clue about you or what you did. Now i know it all, even here in Sweden. Congratulation, you made your self and what you did even more known, but now it's all over the world instead of just some users on spearboard.

     

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    Beta (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 6:40am

    small correction

    I think "lawsuit" implies a civil suit, while this verdict and sentence appear to be the result of a criminal trial. The lawsuit (Murphy suing Nicosia) comes next.

     

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  10.  
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    James (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:16am

    sigh...

    Mike, angry people are not rational. When people are lashing out they do not stop to think about things like safe harbor. neither do their lawyers, who are going to be paid no matter what happens in court.

     

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    scarr (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 7:24am

    Re: sigh...

    Based on the verdict, this guy might not believe in safe harbours.

     

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  12.  
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    bob, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 8:49am

    Interesting note

    On Vitals.com Dr. Roger Nicosia is rated poor with only 1 out of 4 stars by 16 patients.

     

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    NullOp, Jan 17th, 2011 @ 9:13am

    Law Suit

    The suit is somewhat frivolous being the doc was convicted. But, if defamation is involved that is another story. The doc is protected under law from defamation as we all are, at least theoretically. Law does favor those with money!!! The best of this is the doc was convicted and sentenced. Isn't that how the law works? If the sentence was "too light" then someone should reference the law and see that there are guidelines for punishments. We can't just throw the doc in a meat-grinder as punishment because he's a doc. The law is the law, it's not about justice, it's not about fair....it's just the law.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 9:55am

    Re:

    Section 230 protects the site from liability, but does it also mean the site cannot be named as a party to the suit?

    Yes.

    With a few small exceptions (Roommates). Eric Goldman and Paul Alan Levy have discussed this in various places.

    How else could you get the site to remove the offending material?

    See our recent discussion on Ripoff Report.

     

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  15.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 10:04am

    Re: sigh...

    You are right, of course, but that doesn't make what they do any better or wiser.

    Keep in mind, this is hurting him too, and one day he is likely going to regret getting so upset and making the situation worse without stopping to think for a second.

     

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  16.  
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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 3:06pm

    Re: small correction

    This post isn't about Florida charging Nicosia, or Murphy suing Nicosia. This is about Nicosia suing this website and some commenters.

     

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  17.  
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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 3:11pm

    Re: Law Suit

    Nicosia was convicted for the hit-and-run, but he has not received any sanctions for his actions afterward. In case you didn't read the site (You had to do a search first. :P), Dr. Nicosia, an emergency room physician, stood and watched his now legless victim hauled out of the water, ignored shouts for medical help, declined to answer police when they asked if anyone aboard his boat had medical experience, and then left. Seriously. Quite frankly, that's despicable and I applaud the efforts of the commenters who are gathering signatures for a petition to Florida's medical board.

     

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  18.  
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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Jan 17th, 2011 @ 6:22pm

    Re: Re: sigh...

    Ba dum ching!

     

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  19.  
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    DiveGal, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 6:56pm

    What can I say...

    Except this guy should have HIS legs cut off and see how HE likes it! Sorry... wrong country.

    Seriously, he is suing the other divers that were in the water and posted their side of the story on a public forum. I thought that we lived in a country of free speach. Everything said on SpearBoard is true. I sat at the hearings and feel that he should have had a greater punishment placed upon him for what he did to that diver.

     

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  20.  
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    NetDoc (profile), Jan 22nd, 2011 @ 5:25am

    In my opinion, this is clear censorship by litigation. There was a tech-dirt discussion earlier this year about my site being sued by a live-a-board fatality. That litigation is still pending and it's my opinion that their primary focus is to quell the truth about what happened and why. The posters on SpearBoard and all divers in general have a right to be angry about what happened that day. They have a right to voice their opinion about the incident and the safe harbor laws are there to protect the site from such frivolous law suits. Unfortunately, the safe harbor laws don't have any teeth to bite the hand that tries to circumvent them. In karmic irony, these suits which seem designed to remove blame and rehabilitate a person's reputation, have the exact negative results. Only the lawyers get richer as their name gets dragged through the mud on a far larger scale.

    FWIW, Ms Welch, as bad as the actions you portrayed seem after the accident, you got some facts wrong, it's worse than you think. This is what I understand the facts to be: The boat was on auto-pilot. It is thought that the Dr was texting or otherwise distracted. When he finally saw the Diver Down Flag, instead of dropping to idle speed, he sped up and turned his boat, right over Rob. He did not at any time reduce speed, but fled the scene, watching the rescue unfold behind him. He did not make any distress calls, he rendered no aid but he did have his lawyer meet him at the dock. At some point it's alleged that he even attempted to erase his GPS.

    I am not sure why the Coast Guard did not also prosecute. It would appear that many maritime laws were flagrantly broken before and during this mishap. Causing a collision, leaving the scene of an accident, not rendering aid are among many he should have been charged with, IMHO.

    My wishes go out to Tony, SpearBoard and the other litigants: I hope you prevail. Also to Rob: I hope we dive together again soon. Your demeanor through out all of this has been amazingly heroic.

     

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  21.  
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    sskeysdiver, Feb 23rd, 2011 @ 3:48pm

    Dr. and dive accident

    This doctor has a long line of people to add to the suit if he is going to sue everyone that said he is a jerk or an ass*ole. If thats the case then, Dr. add me to the list.
    I think the actions of leaving anyone in a medical distress is unthinkable and this guy is a trauma doctor - go figure!

    Maybe - just maybe - whatever $$ this doctor should collect, if he is able to, will ultimately go to Rob when he wins his civil lawsuit.

    Wouldn't you think that an average person who has caused such damage to someone, as well as those that were around him that day, would have some sort of remorse and feel really bad and want to help Rob out?

    Of course, this is all my opinion. It is fact, however, that the doctor cut Rob's legs off and left him.

     

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  22.  
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    Barb, Feb 19th, 2012 @ 11:02am

    Spearboard Lack of Oversight

    Spearboard does not moderate the site at all. They allow people to call each other really ugly and insulting names, way worse than anyone would ever call someone to their face) and libel people without editing or removing postings. I hope they lose the suit, because they clearly show favoritism in whose comments they allow to be posted, and whose they don't.
    They also completely ignore requests to moderate libelous or profane name calling postings.

     

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  23.  
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    Barb, Feb 19th, 2012 @ 11:06am

    Just the Facts Ma'am

    PS: Unless any of you were actually at the scene of the accident, how do you know that what you're reading about this doctor, is the truth? We all know from the dog and pony show that is our political system, that anyone can make anything look any way they want it to look, just by how they frame it, but that doesn't mean its the truth. One thing that was beaten into me both in undergrad as well as graduate school is, look at the source. Whatever you read may or may not be true, one needs to look at the source of the information, before making judgments.

     

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