Savvy business owners know that a strong web presence is increasingly important to the company's growth and sustainability.
This is true for almost every industry, and a big part of that includes online reviews.
However, Boston business lawyers have seen a spike in cases involving untrue, or libelous postings, made by disgruntled customers and, in some cases, even competitors.
Because these postings can tangibly impact your business in a negative way, you do have legal recourse. Similar cases have been cropping up across the country, and involve professionals in a wide range of fields including: medicine, religion, construction, hospitality and dining.
The cases can be brought about specifically when such reviews are untrue, unfair or especially damaging.
Some recent examples across the country include:
1. A Colorado doctor who is suing for the review a former patient posted on Angie's List, RateMds.com and other websites. The patient claimed that the doctor had filled her medical file with things that weren't true. She further asserted that the doctor "almost killed" her and said the doctor was under investigation by the state medical board. The patient claims all of this is true. The doctor disagrees, and says the reviews are hurting his practice. The doctor said he first tried to get the patient to take the posts down, but the patient refused.
2. An Oregon pastor is suing both a mother and daughter for $500,000 for a negative blog post and comments that label the church a "cult," contend its tactics amount to "spiritual abuse" and that the leaders of the organization are "creepy." The church sued not only the originator of the blog, but also those who had commented as well.
3. An Illinois concrete company has sued a woman there for reportedly giving them an "F" rating on a consumer review, after the woman claimed that the company refused to give her an estimate on her patio, saying they didn't work in the area. However, their headquarters were only five minutes from her home, she said. The company says the review was malicious, false and intended to damage the business. The suit is for $10,000.
4. A towing company is suing a 21-year-old college student, who created negative Facebook page against the company after his permitted vehicle was towed. The company alleged the permit was not visible and it was not wrong in initiating the tow. However, some 800 people joined the blog in short order. The company is seeking $750,000 in damages.
The goal of these cases is not so much the money. Yes, businesses may have suffered financial losses, for which they have a right to be compensated. But the bigger issue here is compelling consumers to be truthful and protecting the reputation of a business.
Truth is the only defense in these cases, under Massachusetts General Law 231.59H. This is also known as an "Anti-SLAPP" law. SLAPP stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. Massachusetts is one of 27 states that have Anti-SLAPP laws, which do make it somewhat more difficult to file such lawsuits. What this basically means is that the online review or posting must be untrue.
That is the legal standard. It does not mean that you cannot have an attorney draft a letter or make contact with the consumer requesting a cease and desist. Many times this alone can be enough to compel a consumer to pull down the offending posts.
The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call 617-489-0817 or contact us online.
Doctor Suing Former Patient Over Online Criticism, July 20, 2012, By Brian Maass, CBS Denver
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