Google review author who defamed surgeon revealed as former student

A decorated surgeon has won a defamation action against a former student who was unmasked as the author of an online patient review on Google that was posted under a pseudonym and falsely claimed the surgeon had ripped off patients.

Dr Korana Musicki, a specialist vascular and endovascular surgeon and winner of a university medal from the University of Sydney, took action in the Federal Court after a review was posted on Google under the name “Dave Cross”.

Dr Korana Musicki, an experienced vascular and endovascular surgeon, has won her defamation action against a former medical student.

The review, posted in September 2020, read: “terrible experience, was super keen to get me onto the table but then impossible to get a hold of for follow up, vague about incurred expenses, ended up with a massive bill. had no issues with the surgery but overall negative experience and no followup”.

The court heard that Musicki, whose practice is in Melbourne, corresponded repeatedly with Google in an effort to have the review removed or to be provided with the contact details of the purported patient to follow up with them.

Google refused to remove the post or identify the reviewer until Musicki brought preliminary discovery proceedings directly against the tech giant. In response to a court order, Google revealed that Dave Cross was a pseudonym used by an account associated with an email address.

Musicki recognised the email address and the phone number provided by Google as belonging to Erik de Tonnerre, a former medical student under her supervision at Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2018.

The court heard that de Tonnerre is now practising in Newcastle at John Hunter Hospital. The health professional registry records de Tonnerre as receiving his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Melbourne in 2018.

After Musicki sent de Tonnerre a concerns notice, the Google review was removed in April last year. Musicki took legal action last August. No response was filed and Musicki sought a default judgment.

In ruling against de Tonnerre, Justice Debra Mortimer found de Tonnerre’s “non compliance with the court’s orders is clear”.

“I am satisfied he has sought to avoid service, and to avoid participating in the proceeding,” the judge found in issuing a default judgment in de Tonnerre’s absence.

The judge accepted Musicki “suffered damage to her reputation, particularly because of the location of the publication alongside other reviews of her performance of medical services”.

The judge found the review carried the imputations that Musicki pushes her clients to have surgery for her own personal benefit, that she is negligent as a surgeon in that she does not provide proper medical post-surgery follow-up, that she rips off her clients in that she omits providing clear costings when requested, and that she provided a negative customer experience for the patient Dave Cross.

The post was online for 18 months and was read “by at least some people in Australia” and had been responded to by her own staff.

“It remains to be seen what level of damage the applicant is able to prove from this single post,” the judge said. “Nevertheless, she is entitled to some level of compensation for the respondent’s defamatory conduct.”

De Tonnerre was ordered to pay Musicki’s costs and a further hearing will be held to determine damages.

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