Australian breast surgeon sues Google over auto-complete suggestion he is bankrupt

A Port Macquarie breast surgeon is suing Google for defamation over an overly eager auto-complete search suggestion.

Dr Guy Hingston claims when you type “Guy Hin…” into Google the words “Guy Hingston bankrupt” appear in the auto-compete.

He is suing Google in the US district court of California on the basis this is defamatory as Hingston is not bankrupt and the implication is costing him clients.

According to a Fairfax report, Hingston’s Australian lawyers, Beazley Singleton, wrote to Google Australia in December threatening legal action.

The firm claimed Hingston “lost a number of patients and financiers [who] are refusing to deal with our client as a consequence of the reference on Google which is associated with his name”.

The complaint claims his career as a breast surgeon depends on maintaining a good reputation, which had been damaged after Google had shown him in a “false light”.

Hingston is seeking at least $75,000 in damages plus court costs for the “significant harm and economic loss” caused by the matter.

Google’s auto-complete suggestion appears to stem from a report in the Port Macquarie News from January 2009 about the administration of aviation group CoastJet, which was owned by Hingston.

Separate documents obtained by Fairfax from Insolvency Trustee Services Australia show he was bankrupted on August 4, 2009.

However, Hingston’s lawyer, Philip Beazley, told Fairfax the bankruptcy has been annulled.

SmartCompany contacted Google but it declined to comment as the case is ongoing.

Ironically, reports of the claim against Google now mean the auto-complete “Guy Hingston bankrupt” is even more prevalent on Google.

guy-hingston

Hingston’s claim against Google follows a case last year when Melbourne man Milorad Trkulja was awarded damages of $200,000 after the Victorian Supreme Court found Google published defamatory material linking him to gangland figures.

Trkulja’s barrister, Christopher Dibb, said it was the first time search engines had been held responsible for defamation in the same way as traditional media and the move to make search engines accountable appears to be growing.

John Swinson, partner at law firm King and Wood Mallesons, told SmartCompany more and more, litigants are looking behind Google’s facade with the aim of pinning legal blame on Google.

“The question is: Is Google getting blamed for third party conduct or is it really the actions of Google that are causing the harm?” he says.

 

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