A blogger is on the hook for $30,000 after she posted negative reviews about the plastic surgeon who performed her breast implant surgery.
The B.C. Supreme Court case serves as a cautionary tale that “online review platforms are not a carte blanche to say whatever one wishes without potential consequences,” Justice Gordon Weatherhill wrote in his judgment.
In court documents, Weatherhill outlines how Rosa Campagna Deck hired Kelowna plastic surgeon Brian Peterson to perform a breast augmentation in 2015, but she was unhappy with the results that left her with one breast lower than the other.
Three years later, she posted reviews on her website and on Google Reviews which called into question Peterson’s competency and reputation while claiming he made mistakes — allegations that were later dismissed by the court, which found she misrepresented the facts.
“Fast forward to three months post-op — low and behold the itty bitty boob I traded in, for a deformed downward breast that was well over an inch higher than the other,” Campagna Deck wrote in her reviews.
“I did not feel good I let this surgeon cut me open.”
Peterson asked the blogger to remove her reviews. She said no.
Different sized implants
When Campagna Deck first visited Peterson for a breast augmentation consultation, the surgeon noted during a physical exam that the defendant had a chest wall deformity known as a pectus excavatum, where the front of her chest is concave, which can lead to breasts that don’t appear symmetrical.
The surgeon claimed he explained this to his client and warned her it could complicate the surgery.
He recommended that she choose two implants of different sizes to compensate for the sunken chest, which Weatherhill said, was shown in his patient notes.
But, Campagna Deck opted to go with two implants of the same size.
However, in her reviews, the judge said Campagna Deck wrote that Peterson never warned her about the complexity of her chest.
Upset with the results, Campagna Deck contacted the clinic multiple times complaining that her left breast was higher than the right. She also complained of residual bruising, which Peterson said was a normal side effect of the procedure.
The surgeon wasn’t concerned about the procedure and he told Campagna Deck that the implant hadn’t fully dropped into place, yet, which is also normal.
He also explained, according to the judgment, that if by March the implant hadn’t dropped, he could perform a second surgery. However, Campagna Deck had set up another appointment in February at the clinic but with a different doctor.
The second surgeon, Dr. Valnicek, recommended — just as Peterson did — she choose a larger implant to correct the imbalance, the judge said.
Campagna Deck asked Valnicek to perform her surgery despite Peterson offering to do another surgery free of charge to ensure she would be content with the outcome.
But again, in her Google review, she posted what the judge said were untrue claims.
“I took Dr. Valnicek’s suggestion making one implant 30 cc bigger, again I am so thankful I did not take Peterson’s misguided advice or my breasts would still not be symmetrical like they are today,” she wrote.
“My experience with this particular surgeon was an anxiety-filled nightmare.”
True or false
In defamation cases, truth is the ultimate defence. Ultimately, Justice Weatherhill found that many of Campagna Deck’s statements were false. As well, her reviews relied heavily on opinion, which can also be protected under fair comment, but those comments need to be based on fact.
“The defendant’s description of a number of the background facts that make up the Posts, I conclude, misrepresents the facts,” wrote the judge.
This case, and Weatherhill’s judgment, could be taken as a warning for anyone who frequents review pages like Yelp, Google, or even Rate My Teacher.
“Consumer reviews, as a general principle, ought to be encouraged and there is a very real danger of a chilling effect if they are curtailed. However, such reviews should not be left unbridled,” he wrote.
“Defamatory comments dressed up as reviews that are not factual or do not qualify as fair comment are subject to the laws of defamation.”
Along with the damages, Campagna Deck must also remove the reviews.