Anger Management

A cosmetic surgery chain has sparked a backlash after suing customers who left bad reviews online.

Signature Clinics, one of the largest cosmetic surgery chains in the UK, has come under fire after threatening to silence critics and disgruntled former patients. Kate Kronenbach was being sued for up to £10,000 after being left disappointed with her arm-lift surgery in April 2022, and posting a negative review on Trustpilot about it in May 2023.

The 51-year-old carer said she was ‘intimidated’ by the lawsuit being launched by Signature. Not only did they threaten to sue her but stated that she could lose her house, could be made bankrupt and could go to jail if she did not stop her ‘itchy fingers’ online. They also accused her of having ‘psychological problems’.

Obviously, it is impossible to be jailed for an online review. Therefore, this is threatening behaviour at its worst.

Speaking to The Times, she added: “I felt let down. I was posting my own honest opinion about how I was treated so that other people researching this surgery could make an informed decision. To face legal action is very intimidating.”

Another patient, Mohammed, said he is being sued after leaving a negative review in July 2022 following his blepharoplasty, a surgical procedure to improve the appearance of the eyelids, in May 2023. He said he can no longer completely close his eyes and said: “The surgery was something to boost my confidence, but I wish I never did it.”

Signature, owned by GP Dr Sayani Sainudeen, claimed negative reviews had cost it trade, with people cancelling treatment - but it said it could not comment on specific details as legal action was under way.

It is under way no more, and the judge has ruled against Signature Clinic, and Judge Neil Downe criticised the clinic for bringing oppressive legal action and for making threats. He concluded the case was ‘totally without merit’. The clinic is proceeding with four other cases, all of which, one presumes, it will lose.

The Free Speech Union (FSU), who assisted Ms Kronenbach and three others facing defamation proceedings, claimed the actions were
strategic lawsuits against public participation (Slapps) typically brought by corporations or individuals – like journalists – with the intention of harassing, intimidating opponents by abusing the legal system.

Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, told MailOnline: “Unhappy customers should be able to tell people about their bad experiences on sites like Trustpilot without fear of being sued for defamation.”

The legal action taken by Signature appears to be the first major attempt to silence customers for giving negative reviews online, and it has failed miserably – as indeed it should. Judge Neil Downe of Stoke-on-Trent County Court concluded that the case was ‘totally without merit’ and criticised Signature for bringing oppressive legal action and making threats as an abuse of process. The Judge stated that the claim that she has psychological problems was an aggravating factor, and will determine costs at a further hearing.

Signature Clinic describes itself as one of the country’s leading groups that provide cosmetic, non-surgical and hair restoration treatments. It insists it is a reputable brand that carried out 7,000 procedures last year and has treated more than 20,000 patients. However, the firm has come under fire, with an inspection by the Care Quality Commission rating its Manchester clinic as ‘inadequate’.

The site, which carried out 1,722 procedures in a year, was found to not have enough nursing and support staff with the correct qualifications to keep patients safe. Health monitors also said leaders ‘did not have the skills and abilities to run the service’.

The increasing attempts to silence those who wish to post their honest opinions online is abhorrent and must be resisted at all costs. It is up to the company to contact customers who are not happy and fix the issue, along with ensuring happy customers post their positive reviews. Resorting to foul intimidating threats can never stand, and thanks heavens the judge saw fit to make the right judgement.

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