Jury finds litigants guilty of mutual Internet defamation

Many online enthusiasts don’t require a consumer review site to express product or service dissatisfaction. Social media sites are filled with random product endorsements and criticisms. Los Angeles consumers should be aware businesses aren’t above filing Internet defamation lawsuits, when they’re unhappy with what you say about them.

Customer satisfaction can generate business revenue. Dissatisfied customers drive revenue away. Web-wide product slams wield influence that can put a company out of business.

What’s fair? According to a jury’s recent decision on a defamation case, a defendant and plaintiff both can be out of bounds.

An individual guilty of defamation ruins a party’s reputation through spoken or written false claims. Many courts presume a company’s reputation is damaged after a defendant posts comments about wrongdoing or incompetence. Damages awards hinge on whether unjustified libel or slander caused a loss.

A woman complained about a building contractor on two review sites, Angie’s List and Yelp, which generated a scathing online response from the offended business owner. The contractor said the reviewer’s criticisms about his work cost his company $300,000.

The defendant wrote the fired contractor didn’t live up to a 2011 work agreement. The woman said the work was substandard, and the contractor overbilled her and trespassed. The reviewer also implied the contractor stole jewelry from her townhouse.

The businessman shot back with his own allegations. He wrote the homeowner underpaid him and refused to let him access property he left at the townhouse. The plaintiff sought $750,000 in damages, citing a loss of up to 10 business contracts over poor reviews.

The court decided both litigants were guilty of defamation and that neither one deserved compensation.

Businesses can delete negative reviews on their own websites, but don’t have the same control over opinions on review sites. Some companies turn to intellectual property attorneys for advice. With this verdict, it appears consumers also may require a legal consultation.

Source: The Washington Post, “In defamation lawsuit over Yelp reviews, neither side wins damages” Justin Jouvenal, Feb. 01, 2014

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