If you get poor service in a restaurant or feel a house painter you hired didn’t do the job you paid for, it can be very tempting to jump online and write a scathing review. Before you do, you should think twice. If you’re not careful, leaving a bad review could get you sued.
Online websites and smart phone apps allow people (and often encourage) a person to review nearly every type of business out there. Doctors, dry cleaners, dentists, and diners all have sections on sites like Google and Facebook allowing anyone to post and rate their level of service. And as customers, it is almost automatic when making decisions to review what others experience was, or at least look at the average star rating.
However, there has been an alarming increase in litigation involving those businesses feeling wronged by online reviews to take action by hiring an attorney to pursue removal or even file litigation to pursue damages. Over the last couple years, Nodak Insurance has received numerous calls and even some claims involving online reviews. Typically, this type of wrong falls under two legal definitions:
Libel-A published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation. Or:
Slander: The action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation.
While we have all had a bad meal or hired a contractor that didn’t keep their promises, it is wise to be careful before taking out your frustrations. There is no such thing as being “anonymous” online.
The point of this article isn’t to scare you off writing honest, negative reviews online. There are thousands of negative reviews posted every day and only a very small number of them end up with lawyers involved. The big takeaways are:
· Only post things that are absolutely true.
· Make sure you’re expressing an opinion by saying things like, “I didn’t like X” rather than making statements that could be interpreted as facts like “X sucks”.
· Avoid accusing the companies you’re reviewing of criminal behavior like robbing you, scamming you, and so on.
· Don’t write reviews while you’re angry. Wait a few days and see how you feel. If you still feel the need to write a negative review, do it carefully and deliberately.
· If you are sued or threatened with a lawsuit, contact a lawyer immediately. A few hundred dollars’ worth of legal advice now could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future.
Also, personal liability policies generally don’t offer protection for these types of claims. It is a great idea to talk with your Nodak Insurance agent about what protection your home, farm, or business liability policy may give you. Nodak Insurance offers an endorsement for “Personal Injury” that is designed to protect for things like libel, slander, and other similar claims. And covered claims include attorney defense costs, which could be the largest financial impact on libel and slander claims.
So as the old adage goes: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, this may be ringing more true in today’s online world.