SmileDirectClub has filed a lawsuit seeking approximately $2.8 billion from NBC Universal Media and reporter Vicky Nguyen for knowingly and intentionally making factually inaccurate, misleading, and defamatory claims about the company and its platform for teeth straightening during an NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt report on February 13, 2020.
“We stand by our reporting and believe this is a meritless claim,” an NBC News spokesperson said.
According to SmileDirectClub, the report included more than 40 false and misleading statements about the company and the treatment patients receive from the hundreds of board-certified doctors who use its platform to treat patients. SmileDirectClub says that its reputation was wrongly sullied and its business unjustly harmed as a result of the report.
“The breadth of its misconduct is staggering,” SmileDirectClub said in its 205-page lawsuit.
“NBC misled its viewers and readers about the safety of the treatment that patients receive when using SDC’s platform, the involvement of licensed dentists and orthodontists in the treatment of patients when using SDC’s platform, and the benefits that patients receive when they are treated using SDC’s platform,” the lawsuit continued.
Written with Lauren Dunn, Nguyen’s report described two patients who were dissatisfied with treatment. Anna Rosemond said she developed a crossbite and pain including migraines after treatment. Tom Harwood said treatment moved his teeth so quickly that it caused some of them to detach from the bone.
The report also included four patients who were satisfied with treatment. However, three of these satisfied patients said that they never were told that they were required to see a dentist sometime in the six months before starting the program per the company’s policy, and the fourth did not remember if she was told to see a dentist.
NBC News hidden cameras recorded employees at SmileDirectClub shops in Alabama, New Jersey, and Ohio telling potential customers that they didn’t have to see a dentist before starting treatment. SmileDirectClub chief legal officer Susan Greenspon-Rammelt told NBC that these employees possibly didn’t have or remember the proper training.
Also, the reporters interviewed Dr. Chung Kau, chairman and professor of orthodontics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who said that moving teeth without in-person supervision could lead to permanent harm. They additionally spoke with Dr. Gary Moore, who has been providing SmileDirectClub treatment for four years, who believes “it is a viable platform to treat patients and talk to patients without the patient having to leave their home.”
“Incredibly, nearly everything that NBC stated and implied about SDC in its broadcast and online report was factually inaccurate,” the lawsuit said. “Making matters worse, NBC knew it was not telling the truth to its viewers and readers.
In the wake of NBC’s report and as a direct result of it, SmileDirectClub said, its market cap plummeted by $950 million. As provided for by law, SmileDirectClub is seeking to recover treble damages pursuant to the Consumer Protection Act in Tennessee, where the company filed the lawsuit.
“SmileDirectClub gave NBC every opportunity to retract this defamatory report and correct the record voluntarily. NBC chose not to do so. At that point, the company had no choice but to bring this lawsuit to defend its brand and the reputation of hundreds of doctors who are using SmileDirectClub’s telehealth platform to treat patients every day,” said J. Erik Connolly, vice chair of the litigation practice group at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff and outside counsel for SmileDirectClub.
“With this lawsuit, SmileDirectClub is not just holding NBC accountable for its misconduct, but it is also telling its affiliated doctors and shareholders that SmileDirectClub stands by their side and will fight to protect their interests and reputations,” said Connolly.
According to the lawsuit, prior to NBC broadcasting its report, SmileDirectClub made available to NBC hundreds of pages of documents demonstrating the safety, effectiveness, and benefits of the treatment patients receive using the company’s telehealth platform.
SmileDirectClub says it also made senior officers available to NBC to answer questions and arranged interviews with doctors who treat patients using the platform as well as with many of the more than 750,000 patients who have received treatment. But SmileDirectClub says that NBC chose to ignore this information and these sources because it never intended to publish the truth.
“NBC must be held accountable for its abuse of power and betrayal of trust,” the company said in the lawsuit.
“Viewers and readers across the country turn to the media for the information they need to make decisions about their health and well-being. NBC abused their trust by publishing reports about SDC that were littered with false and misleading statements. NBC’s misconduct not only financially injured SDC, but it also prevented patients from seeking the affordable treatment they need for their orthodontic problems and caused investors to lose millions, if not billions, of dollars,” the lawsuit said.