A closely followed Yelp lawsuit in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., didn't end with a clear winner. A jury found that a homeowner had indeed defamed a contractor by writing scathing reviews on Yelp and Angie's List.
But then came the surprising twist: Jurors determined the contractor, in turn, had also defamed the customer by responding to the customer's comments with accusations of his own, reports The Washington Post.
Yelp defamation lawsuits are becoming a reality for customers and business owners alike. But as this case reveals, it's tough to predict who will reign victorious in such a suit.
No Defamation Damages Awarded
Businesses can bring defamation lawsuits when a reviewer posts false information and lies. So if a reviewer claims that you stole her money and never performed the job, you may win a defamation lawsuit if neither of these things are true.
In this case, homeowner Jane Perez of Fairfax, Virginia, defamed contractor Christopher Dietz on Yelp and Angie's List when she made the following fact-based allegations that the jury determined weren't true: that Dietz had trespassed on her property, and that he had billed her for work he didn't do. Perez also insinuated that Dietz was the only other person who had a key when jewelry disappeared from her home, reports the Post.
But on the flipside, the jury determined Dietz also defamed Perez when he responded to Perez on Yelp and Angie's List and made allegations that also weren't true, including that Perez had "stolen" his goods and services (since she never paid him for the job).
As a result, because each party defamed the other, no damages were awarded.
Yelp Lawsuits Are Unpredictable
The major takeaway here seems to be that Yelp lawsuits get mixed reviews in court. Even though a baseless negative review based on opinion can be just as damaging as one based on fact, it's protected free speech.
The trouble is that the lines can blur between fact and opinion, truth and falsity. Because of our rich tradition of protecting free speech rights, many courts are often hesitant and reluctant to engage Yelp lawsuits. But others are more amenable to it, making Yelp review-related litigation a dizzying, unpredictable experience for business owners and customers alike.
For guidance on how courts in your jurisdiction have ruled on the matter, consult a small business attorney in your area.
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