Legal Lens: Can a business sue you for a bad review online?

Legal Lens

The Brown & Crouppen Legal Lens takes a closer look at everyday legal issues and gives you a better understanding of topics that may affect you.

ST. LOUIS – In this day of social media and online access to everything, it’s easier for customers to talk about their experiences with business – both good and bad. Surveys say 88% of people will consider a review before to a business for the first time. So, can a business sue an individual for a negative review?

In this day of social media and online access to everything, it’s easier for customers to talk about their experiences with business – both good and bad. Surveys say 88% of people will consider a review before to a business for the first time. So, can a business sue an individual for a negative review?

“Yes, a business can sue a customer for a negative ad online and it’s something we’re seeing an upward trend towards,” Brown & Crouppen associate attorney Brandon Jackson said. “We’re seeing business owners attempt to protect their reputation by filing suits online and seeing them so much, there’s an acronym for them – SLAPP suits, or strategic litigation against public participation.”

What does a business have to prove in order to file a lawsuit against a negative customer review? Jackson says the business has to prove defamation.

“In order to prove defamation or liable, you have to prove it’s a statement of fact. That it was made publicly and dangerous or injured a business’ reputation,” he said. “Finally, a business has to show reputational harm or damage to property.”

Aren’t there laws on the books that protect the speech of a customer to talk about their experience with a business or its service?

“You hit nail on the head. The most important law on books is the US Constitution and the First Amendment grants us free speech,” Jackson said.

In 2016, Congress passed the Customer Review Fairness Act, a federal law that attempts to crack down on business owners by saying you can’t pursue a claim against people who leave online reviews unless you have a non-disparagement clause in a contract with them. Which rarely happens.

What advice would Jackson offer to customers considering writing an online review?

“Be honest, be accurate. It’s ok to state your opinion but not to lie. Most importantly, be truthful. In addition, if you feel a business owner is trying to quash your free speech, you are able to contact the attorney general’s office and file a report against them,” he said.

“Everyone has a right to their day in court. You may it see it is a frivolous lawsuit but you could end up spending thousands in legal fees protecting yourself, so tread lightly.”

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