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Fighting Defamation With A Little Help From Yelp

Constructive criticism can be an immensely helpful tool for businesses of all sizes. As many of your potential customers begin using the internet to connect with and find businesses to patronize, the use of various review websites such as Angie’s List and Yelp can become more popular. While the purpose of these sites is to empower consumers by enabling them to share their experiences with various businesses online, there are some downsides. One of them is the opportunity for defamation. This unprecedented access to others’ opinions of local establishments also provides individuals with the platform to defame businesses for various reasons. If you feel that a customer review has crossed the line from criticism to defamation, you should speak to an experienced attorney about your options.

What Defamation Is and How It Can Happen On Yelp?

The legal term “defamation” refers to “any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.” There are two different types of defamation; slander and libel. Slander refers to spoken statements and does not apply in this article, however, libel refers to written statements and we will focus on that here.

In analyzing defamation for the purposes of determining whether a Yelp review has been defamatory, we must first discuss the elements of defamation. A successful claim for defamation in Florida requires that you prove the following:

  • A false and defamatory statement about another;
    • Keep in mind here that the statement must be false. Even if it is negative, the defendant has a defense if the statement is actually true. Further, an opinion is NOT applicable here, so you cannot sue a customer simply for making an opinion if they are making an opinion about truthful events.
  • in a publication to a third party (must be unprivileged);
    • In this case, the publication is the actual Yelp review itself.
  • at the fault of the publisher;
    • Keep in mind that the term “publisher” refers to the person who wrote the review. The person has to be proven to at least have been negligent about what they wrote, even if they did not purposely intend to make a false review.
  • that is actionable due to harm or actionable due to the nature of the statement itself.
    • One of the most challenging parts of determining whether you can sue for defamation is proving that your business has been harmed. You have to be able to prove how much your business has suffered in terms of business profits.

You Have Options

Around the nation, businesses have started fighting back when faced with defamation on review sites. In Florida, a moving company, Superior Moving & Storage, sued a customer, Scott Hooten, who left a negative review on Yelp, for $15,000 in damages. Superior Moving & Storage filed suit, claiming that Hooten’s statements were false.

Fighting for your business’ reputation can be a stressful situation. You do not have to do it alone. Contact Pike & Lustig, LLP if you live in West Palm Beach and let our experienced business litigation attorneys help you protect the reputation of your business.

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