Have you ever had such a bad consumer experience that you were compelled to tell the world about it online on a customer-reviews site? I have. After spending a night at a rundown hotel outside a national park, I wrote this on a travel site: “Do not stay here if you can help it” because the place is “a dump (it even smelled like a toxic dump, at that).”
But reviewers, take heed: If you feel a civic duty to post a scathing screed, warning others to steer clear of a particular establishment, like a restaurant or a hotel, or a service provider, like a doctor or a home contractor, you could face a defamation suit.
Sued After Posting About Her Contractor
That’s what happened to Jane Perez, a homeowner in Fairfax, Va., after she wrote critically about her home contractor on Yelp and Angie’s List. The contractor sued for $750,000 in damages, saying Perez’s words were false and hurt his reputation.
The lawsuit is an eye-opener, providing a valuable lesson on how you should — and shouldn’t — post critical reviews about businesses and service providers online.
Eric Goldman, director of the Santa Clara University School of Law’s High Tech Law Institute, says the Perez case is “a reminder to us as review authors: There can be significant legal risk to sharing our views online.” Goldman says it’s one thing if you bash a business to a friend over coffee. But it’s quite another, legally, “when you start chatting over the Internet with a few million of your not-yet friends. Companies see these reviews and sometimes get testy.”
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