Yelp Users Getting Sued for Negative Reviews
Do you love to bash bad companies and restaurants on Yelp? You’d better be careful, because now you could be sued for posting a negative review online.
Over the past few months there has been a surge in businesses suing Yelp reviewers for nasty reviews. In February, a Texas couple was sued for leaving a negative review of a pet sitting company. In the review, the clients cited difficulty contacting their pet sitters as well as confusing fees as some of the reasons they did not enjoy their experience. After the review was posted, the pet sitting company brought a lawsuit against the clients for over $6,700. The reason for the lawsuit? Apparently the couple had signed a non-disparagment agreement in their contract.
This instance of Yelp legal trouble was not the first of its kind. Around a year ago, a New Yorker visited a local dentist and had a negative experience. The woman, Mary Rohs, claims she had to wait over an hour and was then greeted by a curt and dismissive dentist, Dr. Nima Dayani. According to court records, Dr. Dayani has a different account of Rohs’ appointment than she does, claiming that she was in the office for an extended period of time as a part of her thorough exam. Two days after Rohs posted the negative review, Dr. Dayani sued her, saying the review was defamatory. He claimed that he generally welcomes positive and negative reviews, but Rohs’ went too far:
[Rohs] accsued me of malpractice by saying I didn’t diagnose her. When you are publicly accusing someone of malpractice, you are damaging their reputation.
In response to the increase in lawsuits, Yelp has stepped in to warn its users. In several circumstances, the company has issued warning banners on companies’ pages on its site that read:
Consumer Alert: Questionable Legal Threats
This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, including issuing questionable legal threats against reviewers. As a reminder, reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.
An example can be found on a moving and storage company’s page, yet another company that has an ongoing legal battle with a customer for defamation. Yelp wants to make sure users are aware of the potential trouble they could get into with posting negative reviews.
This increased concern for consumer safety comes alongside some consumer-oriented legislation being introduced in Congress. The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 was introduced this April and works to ban gag clauses–portions of contracts that prohibit signers from speaking negatively about a business–from consumer-business contracts. The act also aims to protect the right of the consumer to speak freely about a company. The bill still has a long way to go, but would be a step in the right direction as far as protection of consumer free speech goes.
While it may seem scary that you could be sued for expressing your opinion online, it is important to remember that these cases are not super common. Part of the reason that legislation against these suits is just now developing is that this type of lawsuit is so new in the litigation sphere. Rest assured that your freedom of speech is still protected and that you will, most likely, not be sued for your next disparaging taco bell review.