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Bad Review Lawsuit

“Carlos S” of Yelp.com is my nemesis.

You can still find his negative review of this law firm today.

The problem is, “Carlos S” was never a client of ours. I never met him. I never talked to him. This firm never provided legal services to him. We couldn’t help him if we wanted to, because apparently “Carlos S” believed he was obtaining immigration law assistance. We don’t do that. We’re small business lawyers. He posted his review on the wrong firm!

This basic fact didn’t stop “Carlos S” from starting off his one-star review of L4SB by saying “This guy is ONLY after the money…” and following it up with “He pocketed more than $8000 and DID not do his job.” Mr. “Carlos S” practically typed out an entire page containing such priceless nuggets of complete disinformation about this law firm.

Should we sue him? Is a bad review lawsuit worth it?

What Can You Do?

So what can we do? We’re attorneys, and you’re probably asking yourself, “can’t attorneys do something about it??!?” The answer is yes we can, but it’s very time consuming and expensive. Even for us attorneys. Is it worth undergoing a bad review lawsuit? So, we made the economic decision not to pursue it, and instead, focus on receiving positive reviews to drown out the one negative review.

I receive calls constantly from business leaders and small business owners regarding the very same thing. In fact, we wrote another article on the best way to react to a bad review. They either have a completely bogus review like ours or a legitimate bad review. We often see a disgruntled employee or customer going out of their way to smear the credibility of the business; spreading lies, innuendos and misinformation.

There are some very real and practical problems with hiring attorneys to help you and your business with a bad Internet review. These problems include:

  • People are Entitled to their Opinions. As long as a review isn’t actually lying about a specific fact that can be proven as false, people are entitled to their opinions, and there really isn’t anything you can do about it. For example, “Joe’s Burgers taste horrible” is an opinion and you cannot do anything about it.
  • Truth is a Defense to Defamation / Libel / Slander. In general, the “elements” of defamation are (a) a false statement is made, (b) that is communicated to a third-party, (c) with some level of intent to publish the communications, (d) without a privilege, (e) that cause, in come cases, damages. Slander is a verbal communication to a third-party, and libel is a written communication to a third-party. If a defendant can prove the statement is true, there is no case for defamation.
  • A Lawyer May Just Aggravate the Situation. Oftentimes, an individual leaving a negative review is already very angry. Hiring an attorney may only escalate the situation. A reviewer may inflame the situation by publishing the attorney’s demand letter. Furthermore, in the minds of some, the attorney action simply gives credibility to the negative review. You need to carefully judge whether hiring an attorney will help or hurt the situation.
  • Limits of Attorney Power. There are a number of federal laws on the books that protect Internet Service Providers. Companies and websites like ripoffreport.com, yelp.com, bbb.org, angieslist.com, facebook.com, etc, are not responsible for the material posted by their users / website visitors. Therefore, these websites have little to no incentive to be responsive to a negative review complaint, especially without a court order.
  • Internet Anonymity Can Make a Lawsuit Expensive and Difficult. In the case of our Mr. “Carlos S,” he was an anonymous person we couldn’t identify. Therefore, in order to obtain a court order to order Mr. “Carlos S” to take down his negative review, we would first need to sue his email provider to compel them to release the identity of “Carlos S.” Suppose it was an anonymous email address to comcast.net, gmail.com, aol.com or similar? We’d then need to sue the relevant company to compel them to release whatever information they have of that email address. And, so on and so on, until we hopefully reach the legitimate Internet service provider for Mr. “Carlos S.”

What Should You Do?

Therefore, when I talk with a small business owner about a negative review, I always tell people that “we’re happy to collect their money,” but that they may be better served doing the following instead of hiring a business attorney or litigator:

  • Respond to the negative review. Think of your audience as not the negative reviewer but the Internet-at-large and in particular, new prospects for your business. Be kind. Show empathy. Apologize. Politely explain.
  • Attempt to contact the negative review, and ask them to take it down. Negotiate or reach some sort of settlement. Do they want some money back? Do they want a free service or product? It may pay in the long-run to give a discount to a service, to get rid of a negative review and avoid the hassle of a bad review lawsuit.
  • Focus on getting good reviews, so they drown out the bad reviews.

Never lose your cool, especially in an online forum. Remember there are nut-jobs out there, who will criticize you no matter how much you offer them. Just stay professional. You want the clients and customers who will appreciate your professionalism, not the other nut-jobs who will listen to each other. Think of them as doing a favor for you.

Finally, remember that people want to do business with those who they can relate to. If you respond to a negative review by saying, “I sincerely apologize for your experience. We really strive hard to satisfy all our customers, but sometimes we come up short. I have called you in an attempt to resolve your problem, and I leave open the invitation for you. We take pride in offering a cost-effective, fast and high-quality service,” you will be surprised how many prospects will respond to you favorably, despite the negative review.

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