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When Should You Sue a Customer for Defamation?

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on June 30, 2011 6:43 AM

When is a customer review defamation? And, should you even be suing your customers, the bread and butter of your livelihood, in the first place?

The initial knee-jerk reaction of any business owner to a review posted on a national website that has negative content about their business is bound to be not so positive.

But, initiating a lawsuit over the review is entirely different - and it may be side-stepping important steps to help resolve your customer's problems in a less public and aggressive way.

One thing is for certain: if your customer is simply expressing an opinion, or if what they are saying is simply true, a defamation lawsuit will fail. Opinions and truthful statements are protected.

But, say there’s a customer who alleges there is a problem with your business, despite the fact that you have evidence that their claim is not true. What should you do then? A hotel in Illinois has recently started a lawsuit against a couple who wrote a review on popular travel website TripAdvisor, slamming the hotel for having bedbugs. The hotel, the Carleton, even has proof via an outside pest control company’s report that there are no bedbugs in their establishment.

Sure, so maybe those comments by the customer are untrue. But, the customer must have written the bad review for a reason. And, addressing the underlying issue could help resolve the problem without having to resort to a lawsuit.

Contacting dissatisfied customers who have written bad reviews can be a starting point. Yelp has features that let businesses leave comments on bad reviews that can help mitigate a bad review. And, a dissatisfied customer may become satisfied after a business assuages them with some extra service. The customer may even update their review to highlight your business in a positive light after the fact.

So, even if a customer review is “defamation” to you, holding off on a lawsuit may do your business good - while preventing negative publicity.

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