Dentist Calls Media Stories on Toddler’s Death Defamatory

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A pediatric dentist claims in a defamation lawsuit that TV host Nancy Grace and other media outlets falsely portrayed him as causing the death of a 14-month-old girl through unnecessary dental treatment.

Dr. Michael Melanson sued Nancy Grace – both individually and as principal of the “Nancy Grace” show – as well as Turner Broadcasting System, CBS Television Distribution, and the Daily Mail in Travis County District Court on Monday. Also named as defendants in the complaint are FHT Media Holding, which does business as Womanista, and Erin Elizabeth Finn, who runs the website www.healthnutnews.com.

Melanson says the defamatory media reports followed the 2016 death of Daisy Lynn Torres. He describes her death as an “unfortunate, unforeseeable and unavoidable death of a child due to complications from anesthesia which was administered in accordance with accepted standards of care and as medically indicated and necessary.”

The dentist claims the gist of the media reports wrongfully portray him as causing Torres’ death by treating a dental disease that did not exist.

“When salacious and scandalous allegations are unleashed online they inevitably spread like wildfire destroying reputations, undermining relationships and turning lives upside down. Such is the case here,” the doctor’s complaint states.

In February, Torres’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Melanson, Austin Children’s Dentistry and Texan Anesthesiology Association. Betty Squier and Elizandro Torres alleged that their daughter died from unnecessary general anesthesia for needless dental work done by Melanson and the clinic.

The parents cited a report by Dr. Robert Williams, an independent forensic odontologist who said he did not see enough evidence of tooth decay or pain in Torres’ records to justify the surgery performed by Melanson.

Williams had been sued for defamation by Austin Children’s Dentistry in September of last year over the report saying it was responsible for Daisy’s death. Melanson likewise sued Williams for defamation in October 2016.

In Melanson’s latest lawsuit, he again discusses the role of Williams’ forensic report and claims Williams is not a pediatric dentist and does not have extensive history in pediatric dentistry.

He says the report was “alarming, damaging, controversial, inflammatory and scandalous.”

“The statement called into question whether the professional judgment and dental practices of Dr. Melanson met the applicable standards of dental care and were honest and ethical. The report questioned whether the deceased patient had any dental disease, and whether the treatment by Dr. Melanson was necessary,” the lawsuit states.

Melanson claims the report resulted in a ruling by the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office of an “undetermined” cause of death for the girl instead of a “natural” designation.

He says the publishing of Williams’ forensic report led to a “frenzy” of salacious and scandalous media stories and negative scrutiny about him. He alleges he was “vilified in the media, including on a national level via various outlets and sources.”

The dentist further alleges that the report resulted in his suspension by Austin Children’s Dentistry, which conducted both internal and independent reviews of the statements in the report.

The clinic concluded in its own review that the treatment provided to Torres was dentally necessary and appropriate, according to the complaint, and outside reviews also reached conclusions in favor of Melanson.

“The independent pediatric dentists concluded that the clear dental necessity for Dr. Melanson’s treatment was obvious and supported in the record entries and radiographs, including some of which were not even noted or referred to by Dr. Williams in the short and brief conclusions contained in his report,” Melanson’s lawsuit states.

Austin Children’s Dentistry then reached out to Williams about alleged problems with his report and referred to the findings by the independent pediatric dentists. Williams allegedly agreed with the independent findings that Melanson’s dental work on Torres was necessary and appropriate.

“Dr. Williams agreed it was absolutely necessary to amend his report and promised to expedite a revised report to the TCMEO correcting and clarifying his report and statements,” the lawsuit states.

Despite this promise, Williams never amended his report and as a result, neither did the medical examiner, Melanson alleges.

“Accordingly, Dr. Williams’ false and defamatory report, acknowledged by him to be wrong, was not corrected and to this day remains uncorrected,” the complaint states.

While Melanson was trying to convince Williams to correct his report, he says false and salacious stories “continued to spread like wildfire across various media outlets and the World Wide Web.”

For example, on Sept. 1, 2016, the dentist claims an episode of the “Nancy Grace” show repeated defamatory material in Williams’ report and published additional defamatory material by inaccurately “reporting on the report” in a manner that created false impressions and conclusions to increase ratings.

He cites various statements made in the broadcast entitled, “14-Month-Old Dies in Dentist Chair.”

“The Grace broadcast and transcript was defamatory in that the overall gist and impression was to unfairly and falsely portray Dr. Williams’ report as establishing there were no cavities, that no procedure or treatment was necessary, and that a baby died tragically and unnecessarily as a direct result of Dr. Melanson’s egregious and outrageous conduct,” the lawsuit states.

Melanson makes similar allegations about an “Inside Edition” web article entitled, “Baby Dies Under Anesthesia as Dentist Fixed Cavities, but Autopsy Reveals She Didn’t Have Any.”

“In addition to the false and defamatory statement contained in the title, the article also incompletely, inaccurately and misleadingly quoted the autopsy report as saying, ‘One can only speculate as to why any treatment was performed considering no indication of dental disease or pathology’ when the autopsy report actually stated: ‘One can only speculate as to why any treatment was performed considering no indication of dental disease or pathology was seen in the dental radiographs dated 03/29/16,’” the lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original.)

Melanson makes the same claims about 2016 articles published by the Daily Mail, HealthNut News and Womanista.

The dentist alleges that the overall gist of these articles is that “a baby died while Dr. Melanson fixed cavities when there were none.”

He says the defendants violated the professional standards of journalism and ethics.

“Each defendant broadcast to the world false and defamatory statements about plaintiffs in a malicious and reckless fashion thereby causing harm and damage to plaintiffs’ reputation, economic opportunities, mental and emotional well-being, in addition to harming and damaging plaintiff’s family,” the complaint states.

Melanson demands that Grace and the others correct, clarify and retract their allegedly defamatory statements.

He seeks actual and exemplary damages for claims of libel, slander and business disparagement, and is represented by Warren Westberg of McCauley Westberg in Plano, Texas.

None of the defendants immediately responded Wednesday to email requests for comment.

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