Sign In

Can a Negative Review Get You Sued?

Some companies have threatened lawsuits against people who left bad reviews online.
Published

Writing a bad review is a powerful form of catharsis. You spent money on a good or service and had a negative experience, so you do the only thing you can: try to warn others.

Internet denizens have a variety of critical tools at their disposal, from the humble Amazon review section to organized forums like Yelp, to paid communities such as Angie's List. But what happens when the business you're reviewing takes issue with your commentary? Recently, some authors of negative reviews have begun receiving lawsuit threats.

One Bad Review Away From a Lawsuit

Earlier this month, a man who left a bad review for a Medialink router on Amazon received a letter saying he'd face a defamation lawsuit if he didn't delete the comments. The man posted the letter to Reddit, causing an immediate backlash against Mediabridge Products, the makers of the router. In a statement on the company's Facebook page (which has since been deleted), the company reportedly denied having actually filed a lawsuit against the reviewer but admitted that "Amazon has revoked our selling privileges," according to Ars Technica.

It is heartening to see that Amazon would support a customer's right to leave a bad review in this manner. However, there's no denying that another customer may not have been able elicit the same Internet backlash, which likely prompted Amazon's response. Staring down the barrel of litigation, another customer might have been bullied into deleting the review. Unfortunately, online reviews are increasingly becoming the subject of court battles.

For example, in January a Virgina court ordered Yelp to reveal the names of seven people who left negative reviews for for a carpet cleaning company. "Consumers may feel the need to speak anonymously for privacy reasons or for fear of unfair retaliation by a business," Yelp said in a statement to CNET. "This ruling also shows the need for strong state and federal legislation to prevent meritless lawsuits aimed solely at stifling free speech."

The Truth is On Your Side

Ultimately, you have every right to leave a bad review, as long as you act in good faith and don't lie. The difference between a legal negative review and an illegal one comes down to libel in many cases: "While defamation laws can vary depending on the jurisdiction, libel is the defamation of a company or individual in written form," explained TekRevue. "To prevail on a libel claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a published statement about the plaintiff that was false, injurious, and unprivileged." So what does that mean for reviewers? We're not dispensing legal advice, but everyone knows that honesty is the best policy.

Of course, not all reviewers have good intentions. As The Telegraph reported, some British hotels and restaurants claim they've been "blackmailed" by guests "who demand free meals and stays in exchange for not writing bad reviews on the TripAdvisor website." However, knowingly lying in an online review falls under the definition of libel — and that's a lawsuit you'll probably lose.

Negative Reviews Can Help Businesses

No one wants to deal with with public criticism, but recent research suggests that a few 1-star reviews may actually help a company's reputation. A study published the Journal of Consumer Research "found that polite but negative reviews could improve the way a customer views your products and services," reported Forbes. "Participants even named a brand more honest, down-to-earth, cheerful, and wholesome when there was a polite customer complaint, compared to no complaint at all."

There's a lesson here for businesses and consumers: online reviews should be seen as a form of constructive criticism, not revenge. When a customer shares a bad buying experience online, it's a chance for that company to learn from its mistakes. In the worst case scenarios, well-intentioned negative reviews can warn other customers away from bad apples. But if the customer isn't interested in being helpful and instead chooses to lie, then they could face genuine legal trouble.

Readers, have you had a bad online review challenged by a company? Or maybe you're a business owner who's been the target of malicious reviewers? Share your perspective in the comments below!


Features Writer

Marcy pens consumer news stories of all sorts, in addition to adding pithy prose to many of the roundups you see every day. Her work for DealNews has appeared on sites like Lifehacker, the Huffington Post, and MSN Money. She is by far the most metal member of the DealNews staff, and you can see why by following her on Twitter @ThatBonebright.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
You might also like
4 comments
nydiva2
I'm a graphic designer, and I left a mildly negative review about a printing job on a niche blog. The printer/owner insisted the pics I took made his printing job look bad. The owner then posted pics he/she had taken of my work on the company's Facebook page without my permission. And he/she refused to cooperate when I asked them remove the pics. Facebook finally removed the copyright violation. Given the disproportionate reaction of the printer, I wonder if he/she has consult a lawyer about my review. I'm not worried. The printer's behavior was unprofessional and had he/she ignored my review, fewer people would have read about it.
DennisLaurion
I was sued from 2010 to 2013 for relating my impression of a neurology exam of my father.

Dr. David McKee, a Duluth neurologist, was not laughing when he saw what one former client wrote about him on a doctor-rating website. The reviewer, Dennis Laurion, complained that McKee made statements that he interpreted as rude and quoted a nurse who had called the doctor “a real tool.” As these statements echoed through the Internet, McKee felt his reputation was being tarnished. He sued, and so began a four-year journey that ended this year in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

But boundaries were not on the minds of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Free speech was. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote, “The point of the post is, ‘This doctor did not treat my father well.’ I can’t grasp why that wouldn’t be protected opinion.”

See m/...Law/2013-Lawsuits-Of-The-Yearf-The-Year[/url]
iowac
This is b.s, trying to bully a bad review is not how you win customers over, it is how you react to the bad review, certainly replying with we are sorry to hear your disappointment in our product, please get in touch with us at X number and we can correct this issue with you.

If you take the route of remove your review or we will sue.. clearly is not going to win points and will get consumers angry at you and revolt against your company. Stupid way to solve the issue.
dealnews-pkerrigan
Wow, serious food for thought.
Leave a comment! or Register