A Las Vegas plastic surgeon has sued a Henderson plastic surgeon and his wife for defamation, claiming they posed as a dissatisfied patient to post fake reviews online.
Smith Plastic Surgery and Dr. Lane F. Smith filed the lawsuit in District Court on Monday claiming that Dr. Christopher Khorsandi in concert with his wife, Catherine Le Khorsandi, posted several fake reviews on Yelp, a crowd-sourced review forum and business directory service, and on other websites.
“Defendants worked together to repeatedly leave one-star Yelp reviews masquerading as a real patient of Dr. Smith,” the lawsuit states. “All these efforts were to crush the competition and present themselves in a more flattering light to increase their business and standing in the plastic surgery community.”
The Khorsandis did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
According to the lawsuit, Mrs. Khorsandi, the practice manager for VIP Plastic Surgery, posted phony reviews about Smith under the pseudonym “Cecily S.” A Yelp review posted on Aug. 7 read in part: “This has got to be the worse doctor on the planet. … My stomache was uneven and I had lose skin and my butt is uneven as well!!!! … His bedside manner are disgusting and he’s a horrible surgeon. I had to go to the other side of town to get my body fixed by dr k at VIP in Henderson.”
‘Lasting damaging effects’
“Plaintiff immediately disputed the review with Yelp, knowing it was false and defamatory in content,” the lawsuit states. Yelp removed the review, “however, the review had been up long enough to have lasting damaging effects on plaintiffs.”
The defendants also posted similar phony Yelp reviews on Aug. 8, 9, and 14, according to the lawsuit, as well as “other false and defamatory reviews under fake accounts,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants slandered Smith in speaking with one of his former patients, which “incited a negative on-line patient review.”
The review posted on Dr. Khorsandi’s website by the patient stated that Dr. Khorsandi “examined me and came to the conclusion within five minutes that Lane Smith had put one of my implants in backwards.”
The lawsuit states, “Dr. Smith follows his own office protocols, follows the instructions on the implants themselves, as a result always places implants properly. … The statement was intentionally slanderous; as defendants know that breast implants can flip and there is no way to determine how the implant flipped and it is defamatory to allege that Dr. Smith placed the implants upside down.”
The lawsuit’s alleges slander, libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress among other claims.
The defendants’ “false and misleading statements were highly offensive, and would be embarrassing to even the most resilient members of society,” according to the lawsuit.
‘Malicious defamation’ alleged
The lawsuit seeks general damages in excess of $195,000 as well as punitive damages for “malicious defamation.”
The lawsuit also seeks a preliminary injunction for “removal of all offending posts” from all social media websites including Yelp, Instagram, Google and Facebook, and an order “restraining defendants from further negative posting about the plaintiffs on such platforms.”
“This is evidence of the improper weaponization of a social media vehicle like Yelp,” said Tony Sgro, the attorney for the plaintiffs. “Persons that use outlets like this need to be cognizant that it comes with some limitations. You can’t simply disseminate untruths and expect to be free of consequences.”
Sgro also took aim at Yelp, saying, “They don’t investigate” phony posts. “They’re garbage in, garbage out.”
“Maintaining consumer trust is our top priority,” a Yelp spokeswoman responded. “Our user support team reviews each piece of flagged content, and if it’s in violation, will remove it from the site. This includes reviews that are not based on firsthand experience with a business, reviews that use hate speech, or reviews that describe a clear conflict of interest.”
Yelp also weighed in, placing this alert on Smith Plastic Surgery’s review page:
“This business may have tried to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, for example through legal threats or contractual gag clauses. As a reminder, reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”
A Yelp spokeswoman said the alert was placed after a Yelp user submitted evidence indicating that the practice had a gag clause in its contracts, purportedly allowing it to sue clients for posting reviews.