A lawsuit over a scathing Google review aimed at a Burnaby dentist will go ahead after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the online post was “capable of defamatory meaning.”
Dr. Edward Chin, director of Smiley Kids Dental at 4233 Hastings St., launched a lawsuit in February 2021 against two people he alleges were behind a negative online review posted on Oct. 20, 2020.
“Dr. Chin had horrible customer service and treated our child with 0 care. Very unimpressed,” stated the post by a Google account belonging to one “William Huang,” according to a notice of civil claim filed in New Westminster Supreme Court.
When Chin reviewed patient charts, however, he couldn’t find any reference to a William Huang as either a patient or parent.
He says he reached out to the Google account and asked for information about the appointment but never heard back.
The review was online for up to seven months, according to the notice of civil claim, and Chin says it resulted in “loss of reputation” and “materially impacted” revenues from the clinic’s pediatric practice.
In tracking down the person behind the Google account – whose identity he ultimately confirmed by getting a court order compelling Google to provide subscriber information – Chin discovered William Huang (a.k.a. Wei Hua Huang) was an acquaintance of a disgruntled ex-employee, Sophia Nim, who had recently been “discharged” by the dental clinic, according to the notice of civil claim.
Chin claims Huang and/or Nim engaged in a "false and malicious campaign of defamation" against him and his clinic.
But Huang and Nim are now pointing the finger at each other, according to court documents.
According to Chin, Huang came to his dental clinic the day after he was contacted by Chin’s lawyer.
Chin said Huang told him Nim had used his phone at a Karaoke bar and that he believed Nim must have used it to post the review without his knowledge.
“He further informed Chin that he had only met Sophia Nim once and that she had confided in him about her recent departure from Smiley,” states Chin’s notice of civil claim.
In Nim’s response to the lawsuit, however, she alleges Huang posted the Google review without her knowledge, participation, involvement or consent.
Nim claims Huang had, in fact, told her he had posted the review.
“Ms. Nim was surprised by this admission and assumed at the time that William Huang posted the alleged defamatory Google review to impress her or to win her affection,” states Nim’s response to civil claim.
Nim admits she met Huang at a birthday dinner and a karaoke bar but says that was on Oct. 17, 2020 and that she wasn’t with him at all on Oct. 20, 2020 when the review was posted.
In separate applications, Huang and Nim both applied to have Chin’s claims dismissed on the basis the Google review was “not capable of being defamatory.”
“Counsel for the applicants submitted that the subject posting should be considered in the context of reviews generally seen on the internet. They say that negative reviews for almost any business are common,” states a Sept. 6 ruling on the case.
But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gordon Funt disagreed.
“In my view, a reasonable, right-thinking person would not view the posting as silly, vague, vacuous or just part of the uncouthness and boorishness frequently seen on the internet,” he wrote in the ruling. “The posting refers specifically to Dr. Chin. The author of the posting also refers to ‘horrible customer service’ and ‘treated our child with 0 care.’ In my view, a reasonable, right-thinking person who had a young child and who was looking for a pediatric dentist for his or her child may view the posting negatively in deciding whether or not to select the plaintiffs for his or her child’s dental care.”
Funt dismissed Huang’s and Nim’s applications.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor