A business lives and dies by the number of satisfied customers who use their products and services. In pre-Internet days, if a patron loved or hated their shopping experience, they could offer their opinions to their friends, family and neighbors. However, now that online venues such as Yelp and Angie's List exist, a business' reputation can be seen by people from all over the world.
Obviously, this is a good thing if the reviews are positive, but negative reviews can be a death knell for a business. It is no surprise that businesses are keeping a watchful eye on their online reviews. What Portland, Oregon, readers might be surprised to learn is that a company can sue a commenter on an online review forum if the company believes the review is unfair or untrue.
Recently, an Oregon appeals court determined that a business can sue over defamation. The appeal stemmed from a lawsuit a wedding venue operator brought against a negative review posted on Google Reviews. The lawsuit was thrown out by a lower court, but the appeals court reversed that decision, stating that a business has the right to sue over untruthful comments.
The attorney for the reviewer has stated that she will ask the appeals court to reconsider, but if they won't, she is prepared to take the case to the state Supreme Court. This case will be watched closely for sometime to come because it could change how people choose to express their disappointment in an establishment. Although a business has the right to defend itself against false statements, having the ability to sue anyone who makes a negative statement about the business is a bit of a slippery slope. On the flip side, it could reign in commenters who post negative reviews out of spite and without credible merit.
For business and individuals who feel they have been wronged, initiating civil litigation could be the solution. If you are considering this approach, speaking with an experienced legal professional can help you determine if this is the best course of action to achieve the financial relief you seek.
Source: The Oregonian, "Online commenter critical of business can be sued for defamation, Oregon court says" Aimee Green, Mar. 12, 2014