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NYC Dentist Punished Patients for Yelp Reviews?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

A class action against a New York City dentist, sued over a contract she required patients to sign, could change the way medical professionals try to protect their online reputations.

A former patient filed the suit against Stacy Makhnevich, a dentist and opera singer who touts herself as "the classical singer dentist of New York," the New York Post reports.

Makhnevich required her patients to sign an agreement promising not to post negative reviews about her online, the NYC dentist lawsuit states. In return, Makhnevich promised to adhere to federal patient-privacy laws.

Despite the agreement, the patient was not happy about his treatment and sounded off on the Internet anyway. "Avoid at all cost! Scamming their customers!" the patient wrote on two websites.

Makhnevich demanded $100 in damages for each day the reviews remained online, according to the NYC dentist's lawsuit. She also threatened legal action.

The patient beat her to the punch. His class-action lawsuit claims the online reviews are "classic fair use" under copyright law, the Post reports.

The suit also says Makhnevich's promise to abide by federal laws was meaningless. The singing dentist would have had to do that anyway, even without the agreement.

In addition, the alleged contract should be void because the patient signed under duress, the NYC dentist suit claims. Seeking help for a terrible toothache, the patient felt he had to agree in order to be treated, his lawyers told MSNBC.

Duress is one way to claim a contract is voidable, because a party cannot be induced under pressure to agree to a contract's terms.

The patient's NYC dentist lawsuit is pending, but it's already prompted changes. The company that drafted Makhnevich's anti-defamation contract, Medical Justice Services Inc., tells MSNBC it's "retired the form" -- which was used by more than 3,000 other medical professionals nationwide.

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