News & Commentary

Defamation Case Results in Award of Attorneys’ Fees – for the Defendant

Doctors often ask if they can sue someone who published an unfavorable review online. While doing so might be possible, it is often not advisable, for a variety of reasons. In a Florida case, one physician sued another for defamation related to blog posts. The physician lost the case, and the defendant was awarded attorneys’ fees.

Neurologist Steven Novella published a blog post which criticized Dr. Edward Tobinick’s use of Enbrel, an arthritis drug, to treat brain and other issues after a stroke. Dr. Novella called Dr. Tobinick’s Institute of Neurological Recovery a “one-man institute” in Florida, which he said was “a very quack-friendly state.” Tobinick sued.  Novella published another blog post about the lawsuit, alleging that it was intended to end his public criticism of Tobinick’s practices. Tobinick sought a court order to have the posts removed. Novella amended his lawsuit.

A district court denied Tobinick’s request to have the posts removed.  He sought to amend his complaint again and that request was denied.  Summary judgment was granted.  The Eleventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court would not reverse the lower court’s decision and Novella requested attorneys’ fees.  The court awarded Novella $259,784 in attorneys’ fees, and Tobinick appealed.  Novella urged the court to uphold his attorneys’ fee award.

The case is Tobinick et al. v. Novella, case number 16-16210, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.