Jazz Singer Has $12M Libel Ruling Reversed

     PHOENIX (CN) – A jury did not have enough evidence of defamation to make a jazz singer pay husband-wife plastic surgeons $12 million, an Arizona appeals court ruled.
     Albert Carlotti and Michelle Cabret-Carlotti, of the Desert Palm Surgical Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., sued Sherry Petta in 2008 for defamation and libel per se after Petta created a website to complain about her treatment by the Carlottis.
     A popular Jazz singer in Phoenix, Petta had been dissatisfied with cosmetic surgery on her nose and eyelids, and had complained that the doctors’ laser-resurfacing treatments had scarred her face, according to the latest ruling in the case.
     Petta submitted a formal complaint against the doctors in 2008 “alleging they had operated on her nose beyond the scope of her consent.”
     “In the next few weeks, Petta began posting statements on various consumer review websites, complaining of her experiences as the Doctors’ patient, including alleging the Doctors were not ‘board certified,” the ruling states. “She also created her own website complaining she had been [the doctors’] ‘victim’ and warning the public of the doctors’ alleged incompetence and unethical, unprofessional behavior.”
     When the doctors filed suit, Petta shot back with a counterclaim for medical battery.
     A 10-day trial in Maricopa County ended with a jury awarding the Carlottis $11 million in actual damages, plus $1 million in punitive damages for defamation and false-light invasion of privacy.
     Denied a new trial, Petta went to the Arizona Court of Appeals for relief.
     In a unanimous Jan. 15 ruling, a three-judge appellate panel vacated the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial, finding that the “judgment cannot be supported by the damages evidence presented and shocks the conscience of this court.”
     The ruling also revives Petta’s counterclaim for medical battery.
     “The evidence on damages was noticeably thin, entirely subjective, and based solely on plaintiffs’ non-specific, vague, and conclusory testimony,” Judge Lawrence Winthrop wrote for the court. “Accordingly, the record plainly does not objectively support the compensatory damages awarded. Plaintiffs offered no evidence of any net loss to their income related to Petta’s statements. They called no independent witnesses to support their contention that their respective professional reputations had been damaged; no physician testified that he or she declined to refer surgical candidates to Plaintiffs or that members of the public otherwise declined to seek Plaintiffs’ services as a result of seeing Petta’s web posts or learning of any professional board complaints.”
     Phoenix attorney Kelly McCoy, who represented the Carlottis, could not say Wednesday whether the doctors would seek a new trial.
     Petta said in an email to Courthouse News that she is “relieved that I can finally trust in our justice system.”
     “It has cost me well over a million dollars between legal fees and the taking of my home and its equity,” she said. “It is unfortunate this is what it costs to defend the truth, but the truth is worth defending.”
     “I can only hope the doctors will not opt for new trial and they will realize enough is enough and they should move on with their lives and allow me to move on with mine,” Petta added.

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