Written by: Chad Van Horn | Van Horn Law Group
Most businesses have gotten a few negative comments here and there, either in-person or in writing. With the advent of Google’s business listings, it’s easy for unhappy customers to take their displeasure to the Web and make sure that everyone knows what a horrible experience they had—and that’s completely within their rights, provided they actually had a poor experience.
The problem comes when the commenter in question didn’t actually have a poor experience and is going out of their way to make your business look bad. This is the point when a complaint has gone too far and moved into the territory of defamation. You’re probably familiar with the concept of defamation already, if you’ve ever heard of someone suing for slander or libel, you already know the basics. Slander is spoken while libel is written, and both are public statements designed to damage the reputation of an individual or organization.
The pros at Physician’s Practice give six points that your case needs to hit if you intend to sue for defamation:
- The commenter has made a published statement that is either easily viewable by the public, or been delivered to at least one other person.
- The published statement must be about you or your business.
- The published statement must be false. By definition, the truth is never defamatory, no matter how negative.
- The published statement is touted as fact rather than opinion. Insults and complaints of poor service referring to matters of opinion (such as a waitress’ hairstyle being seen as unkempt) are not considered defamation, although they may still be rude and hurtful.
- The commenter made the statement with malice, meaning they’re aware that the statement was false and made it anyway. Negligence is also valid for defamation, referring to a disregard of sensitive issues or information.
- The actions of the commenter caused you or your business to suffer provable damages; this is by far the most difficult point to prove when it comes to online defamation. It’s best to avail the help of a lawyer in order to assure this is proven clearly in court.
Ten years ago it may have been significantly more difficult to handle a defamation suit based on online comments, but today there’s clear precedence for it—Eater reports that in 2012, a Virginia woman posted a libelous review on Yelp and was brought to court on a $750 thousand lawsuit on the grounds of defamation. It’s worth mentioning, however, that just because someone said something awful about your company doesn’t mean that you can bite back. While the defendant in this case was found guilty, the complexities of the case led to the prosecutor also being found guilty of defamation.
When it comes to protecting your business online, the first step is to be aware of your reputation. Monitor your reviews and research complaints thoroughly before jumping on a lawsuit. There are dishonest people out there, but sometimes a bad review is just a bad review.
If you feel it’s time to take the next step and get the guidance from an attorney, Van Horn Law Group has the resources and experience to help you.
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