Can Negative Online Reviews Trigger Business Litigation for Defamation?
In the era of e-Commerce and Yelp, online reviews have a tremendous impact on a business. An influx of positive ratings and reviews on the Internet attracts new customers or clients, and vice versa, bad online reviews with low ratings can repel potential clients.
If all reviews on the Internet were truthful and real, that would have been awesome. However, many businesses use online reviews to defame their competitors in an attempt to increase their own profits and destroy their competitors’ reputation.
In view of this, can negative online reviews lead to business litigation for defamation? As evident from a recent lawsuit, yes, they can.
Business Litigation for Defamation Over Negative Online Reviews
As reported by the Forest Lake Times, a restaurant owner and a law firm in Florida filed a lawsuit against another restaurant and Google for allegedly using fake Google accounts to post negative reviews online about the plaintiffs’ law firm and restaurant.
The plaintiffs also claim that the defendant called their restaurant multiple times a day to threaten them and allegedly told the plaintiff’s law firm that the negative reviews would be removed for a fee. The plaintiffs are suing the restaurant for defamation.
Google was also named as a defendant for its failure to remove the negative reviews even though they allegedly violated the terms of the service. The defendant filed a counterclaim, in which he alleges that the plaintiffs were harassing him and leaving negative reviews about his business.
The accused restaurant owner also claims that the plaintiffs attempted to defame his business and coerce him into removing the online reviews.
When Do Bad Online Reviews Constitute Defamation?
Yes, businesses are no strangers to posting negative reviews about their competitors, but when do these actions amount to defamation and can be a basis for commercial litigation? This is a tricky question to answer. Typically, business owners in Florida should consult with a West Palm Beach commercial litigation attorney.
Not all negative online reviews are fake. In fact, prosperous and reputable businesses have learned how to address bad reviews professionally. Whenever possible, online reviews should be treated the same way as physical complaints.
As a business that cares about its reputation, acknowledge the issue outlined in the bad review and seek a resolution to the problem. You need that customer, who left the negative review, to be satisfied with how you addressed the issue so that you can encourage them to update their review.
It is also critical to identify fake reviews. If your competitors or online trolls damage your business or reputation by posting false ratings and online reviews, you may be able to sue for defamation or libel.
Yes, most online reviews are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but you can still sue online reviewers whose complaints contain factually incorrect statements. If a false statement hurts your business, it cannot be protected by the right to free speech.
Let our West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys protect your reputation online. Here at Pike & Lustig, LLP, our lawyers can file cease and desist removal requests or initiate a lawsuit to force the removal of fake, false, or misleading online reviews or statements. Talk to our attorneys by calling at 561-291-8298.