Animal hospital sues former client over viral TikTok videos claiming clinic abused his dog

A veterinary hospital in Surrey, B.C. is suing a former client over a series of critical TikTok videos she posted about her dog’s treatment, with the vet claiming the woman’s ‘objectionable’ viral posts are hurting the company reputation.

Victoria Veira, 36, posted a series of videos this spring claiming Surrey Animal Hospital abused her dog, Charlie, after having him neutered in March. The clips have totaled around 900,000 views.

But in his trial filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the clinic said Charlie’s post-operative infection was Veira’s fault and accused her of posting the videos knowing her story was not true, deliberately dragging its reputation through the mud.

Veira has not filed an answer to the claim in court.

Experts say the case adds to a growing trend of defamation lawsuits involving statements made on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

But TikTok, they say, is a new arena that will potentially see judges weigh a number of thorny issues, including appropriate limits on free speech and the platform’s ability to spread stories much further. than the original poster might have predicted.

The video attracts over 800,000 views

One of Veira’s first TikToks on the clinic, posted on April 2, showed part of a heated argument between her and a member of staff at Surrey Animal Hospital.

Veira stands in the clinic’s waiting room, filming an employee wearing navy blue gowns. The two women briefly yell at each other before Veira turns to leave, telling another man to take his dog to another vet as she leaves.

To date, this video alone has over 800,000 views.

Over the next few months, Veira posted several more TikToks highlighting the clinic’s one-star reviews on Google, her disciplinary action record, and a three-part series explaining the treatment she said her dog received.

She said Charlie, an Akita mix, developed an obvious infection after the spaying procedure.

Veira said she took her dog for several follow-ups and got a second opinion from another vet in Langley, but the infection persisted. The argument of the first TikTok happened during a last follow.

“I took my dog ​​to a slaughterhouse. OK, I didn’t say that, that’s to say, I’m going to take him back, but I took him to a bad vet, that’s for sure,” said Veira in a TikTok.

In its lawsuit, the clinic said Charlie’s infection started because Veira failed to use a stiff donut cone to prevent Charlie from licking the wound. In one of her videos, Veira admitted that Charlie was able to reach the incision around an inflatable collar, but said she quickly changed it to a solid cone.

The clinic claimed Veira was “angry” and “thrown things” at the receptionist during their confrontation, while Veira denied any assault and said it was the receptionist who yelled at him.

Most of the content can still be viewed online even though the clinic sent Veira a cease and desist letter about two months after posting her first video, according to the lawsuit.

Surrey Animal Hospital pictured on Wednesday. Lawyers for the clinic said Veira used TikTok with multiple posts to “maximize” reputational damage to the facility. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Lawyers for the clinic said Veira posted the videos on TikTok with a “reckless indifference” to the facts. They said Veira understood that TikTok had immense reach and leveraged the platform with multiple posts to “maximize” reputational damage to the clinic.

“The defendant is guilty of reprehensible, authoritarian, malicious, malicious and oppressive conduct,” the lawsuit states.

“Such conduct…justifies the court to impose a substantial sentence.”

The lawsuit asked the court to bar Veira from posting new videos about the clinic and to order her to permanently delete old ones.

Is TikTok particularly prone to defamation?

Libel lawsuits involving social media posts have become quite common in recent years, with people getting used to sharing their annoyance on the internet.

Last month, a disgruntled customer who left negative reviews on Yelp was ordered to pay a Vancouver Island wood products company $90,000 in damages.

Complaints on TikTok are rarer, but legal experts say a negative review could be more likely to prompt a lawsuit than on other platforms due to its intuitive algorithm and potentially extremely viral nature: a post can spread to millions of people overnight, especially if the video is picked up by the scheduled “For You” page.

“It’s not hard to imagine in a viral scenario, where something is spreading like wildfire on one of these platforms, that the business has actually been damaged…because the reputation has been tarnished so quickly,” said Justin Safayeni, a partner at Stockwood LLP’s litigation boutique in Toronto.

On TikTok – which has become one of the most popular websites in the world, with more than two billion downloads – examples appear daily of people trying to take down celebrities, brands and institutions.

The problems range in severity, from frustrated job seekers holding big corporations responsible for discriminatory hiring practices to watery-eyed high schoolers calling their nail salon for a disappointing manicure hours before prom.

“Everyone is a publisher now and the result is that we see more and more people being defamed with a much wider reach on platforms like TikTok,” said Daniel Reid, co-chair of the defamation and privacy group at the Harper Gray Act. solidify.

Under freedom of speech, customers can post reviews of a business on sites like TikTok, but there are limits: their story must be true and their comments must be fact-based.

Defamation becomes an issue if the comments are false or unreasonable based on what actually happened.

“The standard for something to be defamatory is actually quite low,” said Safayeni, who is not connected to the BC case.

“There’s nothing about a platform like TikTok or any other social media platform that somehow insulates you from defamation law… I think people would do well to be careful when choosing their words.”

With TikTok, there are additional factors. The platform’s younger demographic might not fully understand libel law or the potential for significant financial consequences, Safayeni said, while the viral component might also cost defendants more.

A judge weighing damages would “certainly” consider the extent to which a defamatory message was disseminated, Safayeni noted.

“Whether it’s TikTok or any other social media platform… users of these platforms sometimes don’t foresee the consequences of what they post,” the attorney said.

Benjamin M. Yerger