You’ve probably heard about companies being sued by customers or past employees, whether for poor service, an injury or termination of their employment. But have you ever heard of a company suing because of a bad review on a review website? While it’s common to hear stories about businesses being sued, it’s certainly less common for the tables to turn.
Recently in Virginia, the owner of a dog obedience school sued a customer for $65,000 after the woman posted a negative review of her experience with the obedience school on Yelp. The dog owner stated that the school did not provide the services indicated and demanded a refund. However, the school’s owner stated that, in an exchange of emails with the customer, the training conditions were made clear, as was the non-refundable payment. The school did offer the woman other options.
The school owner explained that they, like so many other small to mid-sized businesses, depend heavily on word-of-mouth and positive online reviews to gain new customers. The customer, however, argues that her review should be protected by the First Amendment and she should be able to freely express herself.
This case isn’t one of a bad review, but of a false one. When businesses and customers agree to terms, they are both bound to abide by them. So what can businesses and individuals learn from this lawsuit? Founder of LaBov & Beyond Marketing, Barry LaBov weighs in with these tips:
Stick with the Facts
In this particular instance, while the customer was unhappy that the school’s training did not meet her expectations, she did initially agree to a non-refundable payment. That is a fact and that cannot be ignored. When posting a review, whether positive or negative, be honest and truthful.
There’s a Limit to Free Speech
While some people may think that they can say whatever they’d like about a business and be protected by the First Amendment, there are limits to free speech in the United States, one of which is defamation. This applies to any false statements that make someone else look bad to the public.
Try to be Objective
Everyone is free to openly express how they feel or their views on a matter. But people should be careful of what they say and how they say it. When unhappy or disappointed with a business, product or service, it’s easy to take the situation and exaggerate it. Individuals can leave reviews that are informed by their opinions and emotions, but they need to temper them with truth and accuracy in order to be better heard, and to avoid legal action.