For starters, we need to keep in mind that the laws differ from state to state. So, you should check with a lawyer to best understand your legal rights. For full disclosure, we’re not giving you legal advice here; instead, we’re offering some background information so you can make a business decision about how to handle this.
Wayne Cohen, a trial lawyer in Washington, D.C. and our General Counsel, helps shed some light on the subject of whether to sue a client who leaves you a negative review. According to Mr. Cohen, “The starting point for understanding whether a negative review is actionable is to look at the words of the review itself. In general, if the review is accurate, but simply the opinion of the reviewer, then there’s not much to do. On the other hand, if the review is blatantly false, then you may have grounds. In lay terms, let’s say that you are a doctor and one of your patients leaves you a negative review that says, ‘I had to wait for 20 minutes in the doctor’s office before anyone even saw me!’ and gives you 1 star out of 5. If that statement is accurate, then there’s not much you can do. However, if the reviewer said, ‘I had to wait for 20 minutes before the convicted felon doctor even saw me!’ then the review is blatantly false (assuming, of course, that the physician is not a convicted felon!). In the second case, it may be smart to consider filing suit over the negative review.”
The First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, would allow someone to leave his opinion on a review site without repercussion. But where the review is clearly false, there may be the opportunity for a defamation claim and ultimately a lawsuit. This is where the rubber meets the road, and where you need to decide whether it’s worth it to pursue a suit. “The path of least resistance is usually to evaluate whether the review violates the guidelines of the search engine. If the review violates the guideline, then you may be able to have it removed quickly and at little expense,” says trial lawyer Wayne Cohen. In our example, if you can accurately notify the search engine that the physician is not a convicted felon, then you may be successful in having the review taken down. This is a much better course of action than suing your customer over the negative review.
One best practice for reviews is to do everything possible to protect your online reputation ahead of an attack. If you have multiple positive reviews, then an occasional negative review will be minimized. All Matador Solutions industries served receive a systematic way of achieving positive reviews can be a very effective way of protecting your brand name. Additionally, suing the customer who leaves you a bad review may also become a necessary strategy.