Another online customer review lawsuit is making its way through the courts, which gives us another chance to review the basic requirements for winning an online trade libel case.
A Florida woman bought a hot tub, claimed it didn’t work, and ultimately posted a scathing review on Ripoff Report. In response, the hot tub company slapped the her with a defamation lawsuit.
Below, we’ll review the customer review lawsuit, and then discuss what differentiates an acceptable, but negative, online review and a defamatory one.
Ripoff Report Case Study: Customer v. Hot Tub Company
This Ripoff Report defamation story is similar to most: A disgruntled customer posts a bad online review after an unfortunate incident, and the targeted company fires back with a libel claim.
In this case, a woman (whom we’ll call “Jenny”), bought a hot tub. “The spa leaked the first time I used it,” she explained, “so [the hot tub company] had it repaired. But then it leaked again. My carpet stank from the water and I wanted a refund.”
The situation grew even more contentious when the spa company reminded Jenny of the “no return” policy, which limited her options to paying a 10% restocking fee or $800 for a new tub.
Eventually, Jenny’s credit card company reversed the charges. Regardless, she posted her version of hot-tub-gate on Ripoff Report, which butchered the spa company’s bottom line, so it sued Jenny for defamation.
Winning A Customer Review Lawsuit: Required Proof
It’s not easy for businesses to win defamation lawsuits over online reviews. Protecting free speech rights is a national solemnity. As such, slander and libel plaintiffs must present undeniable proof of the following:
- Falsity: Small mistakes don’t cut it. To win a defamation lawsuit, the problematic statement under review must be a demonstratively false statement of fact — and the plaintiff must prove its *untruthiness*.
- Harm: In most cases, businesses that file customer review lawsuits must demonstrate that the lie had a direct, financial impact on their bottom lines.
- Negligence: Proving harm and falsity still isn’t enough to win an online trade libel lawsuit. Plaintiffs must also convince a judge or jury that the plaintiff a) didn’t engage in enough fact checking before publishing or b) knew the statement was false but posted it anyway.
Before moving forward with an online review claim, really think about the situation. Can you prove all of the above? Or, did your adversary simply write a negative opinion? If it’s the latter, you may want to consider marketing options, to restore your reputation, instead of legal options.
Want to know if you could win a customer review lawsuit? Contact Kelly Warner Law.