Do you ever check online review sites before you engage a service or patronize a business? Do you ever leave reviews? If you do, here's a chilling thought: if you had a bad experience and left a negative review, it can get you sued. Here's what you should know.
There's a Huge Incentive To Keep Reviews High
If the first review someone reads about a company is negative, it can lower a company's income by 70 percent! That gives a single consumer a tremendous amount of power over someone's business - which is what is motivating the aggressive legal tactics by companies against individual negative reviews.
To avoid becoming a target, there are 3 things that you can do:
1.) Separate Facts And Opinions
Your right to free speech doesn't include a right to make dishonest statements - that's when statements become defamation and result in a lawsuit. The problem is, you probably aren't being intentionally dishonest - it's just that you can end up crossing that line when you fail to separate facts from opinions.
For example, when your review of a restaurant says that the food was "rotten," that's a statement of fact (and it might not be true, unless the food was, in fact, spoiled when it was served to you). It takes a little extra thought, but you can change a potentially problematic "fact" into an opinion by clarifying yourself. You can say, for example, that the food didn't taste fresh to you. That makes it clear that you aren't accusing the restaurant of serving rotting food - just serving food that you, personally, found distasteful and less-than-fresh.
2.) Watch For Non-Disparagement Clauses
Read your contract, if you have one. People who enter into service contracts and leases often skip right through the majority of the paperwork and sign where they're told to sign, but that's a mistake - especially if the company is hiding a non-disparagement clause inside the paperwork.
A non-disparagement clause basically prohibits (or tries to prohibit) consumers from saying anything bad at all about an establishment - even if it's true. While such clauses may or may not end up being enforceable in the long run, they can create havoc in your life if a company decides to press suit or try to collect a fine because you've posted a negative review of their business somewhere. You could end up with a damaged credit score and expensive legal fees.
3.) Know If The Law Protects You
In response to the rising tide of attacks against consumers by businesses eager to protect their (not so great) names, states have developed what are known as "anti-SLAPP" laws. These laws protect consumers from the legal and economic threats inherent in the lawsuits brought over negative online reviews. If your state has anti-SLAPP laws on the books, you are protected against such tactics. In some states, you may even be entitled to financial damages from the place trying to sue you!
If you do find yourself the target of a lawsuit by a business that's reacting to your honestly given review of their business, contact an attorney, such as Swartz & Swartz P.C., right away so that you can discuss your options and response - and don't allow yourself to be bullied.