STUART — Two years after Robert Murphy lost his legs while diving offshore, the Martin County emergency room physician operating the boat that caused the tragic accident took legal steps to protect his reputation.
Monday, he sued four people and a website with claims of libel, slander and emotional distress.
In a four-count lawsuit, Roger Nicosia sued Charlotte County resident Lisa Rollins — a friend with Murphy who witnessed the Jan. 9, 2009 accident — along with Duval County resident Christopher Bartlett, John Etzler of Seminole County, Philip A. Grogan of Palm Beach County and Spearboard.com, a Website Grogan operates through Enterprise Publications.
Nicosia's complaint seeks in excess of $15,000 in damages, and a permanent injunction to stop the defendants from defaming him on the Internet and from posting blog entries that are "false, defamatory and misleading."
Shortly after Murphy lost his legs, a groundswell of the popular diver's supporters turned to the Internet and blogs to rail against Nicosia and criticized his alleged behavior that day.
"As a result of the accident," the lawsuit stated, "defendants began a full-blown pursuit to destroy the reputation, livelihood and good name of Nicosia, both personally and as a physician through written and spoken means."
Messages left for Rollins were not returned Monday, and attempts to reach the other defendants were unsuccessful.
During a criminal trial in August, a judge found Nicosia guilty of violating navigational rules, a second-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to six months of probation, and ordered to pay a $250 fine and $900 for the cost of prosecution. Records show he's appealing his conviction and a court order to pay $15,000 in restitution.
Nicosia's attorney, Robert J. Elder III of Stuart, on Monday said despite evidence presented at trial, his client has been "attacked relentlessly by Mr. Murphy's supporters" online and across the Internet.
"Their behavior is so egregious and it's so malicious that it was imperative that we do something to prevent further damage to Dr. Nicosia," Elder said. "What they've done is attempt to incite a modern-day Internet lynching with the blogging and the Spearboard.com and the online petition."
Nicosia, too, claimed Rollins and Bartlett filed a petition "riddled with false and defamatory comments" with the Florida Department of Health in seeking to revoke his medical license.
"Obviously he has sustained damages," Elder said of Nicosia, "both physical and financially, as well as mentally from this onslaught of behavior."
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