January 3, 2017
From Google Places to Yelp, Angie’s List to Healthgrades, people are expressing their opinions on practically everything. In this digital era, reputations are destroyed or strengthened by what people publish online. Major consumer sites such as Amazon and Yelp are dependent on user reviews and content. However, there is no shortage of consumers who use online platforms to settle grudges. Disgruntled consumers often post negative reviews on the sites of businesses or service providers whose products or services fail to live up to their standards. In a counterattack measure, business sites have embarked on a campaign of cracking down on negative and fake reviews.
Read on for information on when a consumer can be sued for a negative review, examples of how posting false or negative reviews can have legal repercussions, and how to engage in safe review practices.
When Can a Consumer Be Sued For a Negative Review
Although the First Amendment protects consumer reviews, a reviewer can be found liable for defamation when they leave false accusations. The right to freedom of speech afforded by the First Amendment is based on whether one is asserting facts or expressing an opinion.
For example, if a consumer says that an organization charges exorbitantly for their products, the business cannot sue them for expressing their opinion or if they do sue, they are likely to fail due to the protections given to consumers by the First Amendment.
However, if a consumer claims that an organization is unlicensed and it turns out to be a false assertion, the business can file a claim of defamation.
Legal Repercussions of Negative Reviews
Jane Perez, an ex-military captain, was not satisfied with the services of her contractor and this led her to post negative reviews regarding him on Angies’s List and Yelp. She remarked how he had done a poor renovation job and how he charged her for tasks he had not done. She warned her fellow consumers not to hire this contractor.
Christopher Dietz, the contractor in question, filed a defamation suit worth $75,000 ordering Perez to rewrite her reviews. Recently, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned that ruling stating that there were no grounds for censuring the reviews but if they were defamatory, Dietz should seek money damages.
While the ruling is considered a victory for the right of expression or speech, it also calls to mind the dangers of posting critical reviews. According to Dietz, the comments made by Perez cost him a significant share of lost business, mental suffering, and a good business reputation. Dietz further claimed that the allegations made by Perez were false and insists he did his job satisfactorily and billed her for the work he had done.
According to Federal Law, websites such as Yelp and Angie’s List are protected from defamation suits, however, the writers, reviewers like Perez, can be held legally responsible for their posts. Perez confessed to the media that when posting her reviews, she never thought she would end up in court for thousands in legal costs and monetary damages. Dietz suit stands at $75,000.
Another case that shows the legal implications of negative reviews involves a Utah couple which posted a negative review about a company. The company demanded $3,500 in damages. When the couple failed to pay, the company regarded the $3,500 as a debt and forwarded their claim to a collection agent. The claim seriously ruined the couple’s credit leading them to sue the company. Whichever way the case goes, the couple would have not been facing court costs, legal fees, a bad credit report, and probably defamation damages, were it not for their bad review.
Safe Review Practices
From the case examples above, it is clear that leaving negative or bad reviews can work against you in the long run. Companies monitor their reviews and watch for false statements. When revenues rely on positive reputations, Kyäni reviews their complaints and customer satisfaction comments closely. To avoid the high cost in damages resulting from posting reviews online, the following are some of the practices you should observe when leaving comments on websites:
Be factual: Stick to your experiences and refrain from generalizations
Give the company or professional a second chance: Before posting a negative review, approach the company and offer it a chance to rectify the situation. Maybe you received a defective product and the company will agree to give you one that is in good condition
Remove the Review: If it boils down to legal action, you are better off apologizing and removing the review. Although you are likely to win if the review was based on factual evidence, court cases are unpleasant endeavors full of surprises.