Internet legal advisers: Look before you Yelp

It might feel good to rant online about a company that has disappointed you with a product or service. Be careful. Internet law attorneys suggest thinking twice before you make written frustrations public. A company could turn the tables and sue you for Internet defamation.

California is one of several states with Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation laws that make defamation suits difficult to pursue. Anti-SLAPP laws discourage defamation lawsuits by adding expenses and complications to the legal process. Nevertheless, a thin line remains between justified criticism and unfounded accusations.

A woman who placed a negative review about a contractor on the Angie’s List and Yelp review sites was ordered by a judge to remove part of her posts. The contractor sued the woman for $750,000 because she hinted the businessman might have taken some jewelry from her home. The unproven criminal activity reportedly harmed the contractor’s reputation and cost him customers.

The reviewer was allowed to retain part of the review that included charges of property damage and trespassing. The judge has not ruled whether the defamation suit can go forward.

Musician Courtney Love lost a defamation lawsuit last year brought by a fashion designer. Love trashed the woman on Twitter by saying the professional businesswoman was a drug user who lost parental rights. None of the statements was accurate. The rocker settled the case $400,000 poorer than she was before the 140-character online attack.

A man who reviewed his experience with a plastic surgeon on RateMD may be defending himself in a defamation suit, despite posting comments anonymously. The doctor named in the review found the poster’s name by successfully subpoenaing an Internet provider for its records. A lawsuit that pits facts against opinions is probable.

Other than boning up on Internet law or retaining an attorney to monitor comments, online reviewers can also purchase added insurance. Some homeowners’ policies include personal injury provisions that cover cases of written defamation, known as libel.

Source: money.msn.com, “Commenting online? Call a lawyer,” Quentin Fottrell, Dec. 13, 2012

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